U.N.: Eritrea has sent arms to insurgents
NAIROBI, Kenya – Islamic insurgents have enough surface-to-air missiles, suicide vests and explosives to sustain their war against the internationally backed Somali government, largely due to secret shipments from Eritrea, a U.N. monitoring panel said in a report.The report, obtained Thursday by The Associated Press, said Eritrea has shipped a “huge quantity of arms” to the insurgents, known as the Shabab. The shipments continued despite U.N. efforts to bring peace to Somalia and the deployment of African Union peacekeepers.Eritrea denied providing any assistance to the Shabab, the militant wing of an Islamic group that ruled much of southern Somalia for six months last year. U.S. officials believe the militants have close ties to al-Qaida.There are more arms in Somalia now than at any time since the country’s civil war broke out in 1991 and “there is no clearly established authority that has the capability of exercising control over a majority of the arms,” the report found.The Monitoring Group on Somalia was appointed by the U.N. Security Council to report on violations of the arms embargo on Somalia established in 1992.Since the start of the civil war, various clans and religious groups have struggled for power, dividing Somalia into warring fiefdoms. In December, Ethiopia sent troops into Somalia to save the U.N.-backed administration that was under attack from the Islamic group in the south.Ethiopian and government troops have since come under near daily attacks by the Shabab, and the Islamic leadership continues to operate from Eritrea.Since December, “huge quantities of arms have been provided to the Shabab by and through Eritrea,” the U.N. monitors said. Eritrea has supplied the insurgents with SA-18 surface-to-air-missiles, one of which was used to shoot down a Belarussian cargo plane on March 23, the U.N. said.”The SA-18 was reported to be part of a consignment of six SA-18s that had been delivered by Eritrea to (the Shabab),” the report said. “The group has also learned … that additional missiles may be secreted in arms caches.”The monitoring group also determined that the Ethiopian military intervention, also a violation of the U.N. arms embargo, succeeded in only scattering the Shabab and that it remains a potent guerrilla force with enough explosives to continue suicide attacks against the government.Eritrean Information Minister Ali Abdu denied that his country has provided any assistance to the Shabab.”It is a total fabrication and the intention of the report is to depict it as if there is a proxy war between Eritrea and Ethiopia,” Abdu told the AP from Asmara, the Eritrean capital.In past reports, the U.N. monitors have said almost a dozen countries were supplying arms or cash to the warring parties in Somalia. The latest report was likely to fuel fears that Somalia is becoming an Ethiopia-Eritrea war by proxy.Ethiopia and its much smaller neighbor Eritrea fought a border war to a stalemate from 1998-2002, and Ethiopia has so far refused to give up territory granted to Eritrea under an internationally mediated agreement.In a letter attached to the U.N. report, Eritrea’s ambassador to the U.N. claimed his country was the victim of “continuous and deliberate subtle disinformation campaigns,” and accused Ethiopia of “destabilizing military adventurism” in Somalia.The U.N. allegations revolve around a chartered Boeing 707 cargo plane that made 13 flights from Asmara to Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital. Despite Eritrean denials, the flights were confirmed by the International Civil Aviation Organization, the report said.The monitoring group also requested information from the United States concerning airstrikes carried out on Jan. 7 and Jan. 23 and a naval bombardment on June 1. The U.S. government acknowledged in a letter to the group that it had “conducted several strikes in self-defense against al-Qaida terrorist targets.” The U.S. sees Ethiopia as a partner in the war on terror.Arms prices in Somalia have skyrocketed with the growing Islamic insurgency against the government, the experts found. Warlords were the most important buyers as the country appeared to be descending back into chaos.”They had lost control of their fiefdoms after the Islamic Courts Union took over central and southern Somalia during 2006,” the report said. “The Monitoring Group has received information that the warlords are currently trying to reconstitute and arm their respective militias.”The group recommended more support for the government in efforts to reach peace deals with the various armed groups, start a disarmament program and eliminate the main arms markets in downtown Mogadishu. It also recommended professional police and border control forces to end the smuggling of weapons.