An east African regional bloc called on the United Nations on Wednesday to impose immediate sanctions on Eritrea for backing rebels attempting to overthrow Somalia‘s besieged government.
Islamist insurgents, including the hardline al Shabaab group, have gained ground during two weeks of Somalia‘s fiercest fighting for months. Local human rights workers say the clashes have killed at least 175 civilians and wounded more than 500, Reuters adds.
President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed’s UN-backed administration is the 15th attempt in 18 years to set up central rule in Somalia. Neighbouring states and Western security forces fear the nation could become a haven for al Qaeda-linked extremists.
“The government of Eritrea and its financiers continue to instigate, finance, recruit, train, fund and supply the criminal elements in and/or to Somalia,” the Inter Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) said.
“(We call on) the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions on the government of Eritrea without any further delay,” IGAD said in a statement after an emergency meeting on Somalia in Ethiopia‘s capital Addis Ababa.
IGAD is made up of Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda. Eritrea suspended its membership in 2007.
Somalia‘s transitional government said yesterday the hardline Islamist rebels had been joined by foreign fighters and had on Tuesday night again attacked government forces.
IGAD said the United Nations should impose a no-fly zone on the chaotic country and enforce a blockade of its ports to stop foreign fighters and arms from bolstering the rebels.
The UN Security Council last week said conditions were not right for a UN peacekeeping force to enter Somalia, despite repeated requests from the African Union.
While there is a small African peacekeeping force in Mogadishu, some members of the government fear a fully-fledged UN force could rally support to the insurgents, who want to drive foreign troops from Somalia.
Forces loyal to Ahmed now control only parts of the capital Mogadishu and the country’s central region.
Ahmed was chairman of an Islamic group that ran Mogadishu in 2006 before Ethiopian troops, wary of having an Islamist state next door, ousted them from power. The Ethiopian soldiers withdrew earlier this year.
Ethiopia‘s Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin denied reports its soldiers had returned to fight the hardline Islamist rebels.
“We are not back in Somalia,” Mesfin told reporters
“We don’t intend to go to Somalia unilaterally. We will continue to follow up developments and do everything possible that this legitimate and sovereign government of Somalia is supported and assisted,” he said after the IGAD meeting.
Since the Ethiopian intervention, fighting has killed at least 17 700 civilians and made more than one million homeless. More than three million people survive on emergency food aid.
The United Nations refugee agency says 45 000 people have fled fighting in the capital Mogadishu in the past 12 days.
IGAD Executive Secretary Mahboub Mahlim told the meeting the region had failed to support properly the ailing Somali government and called the security situation “very grave”.
“This is no longer just a war against Somalia. It is a war against all of us,” he said.
Pic: Somali al Shabaab fighters