Eritrea rejoins East African bloc IGAD


Eritrea has rejoined East African bloc IGAD, four years after it walked out on the body in protest at Ethiopian forces entering Somalia, according to a letter obtained by Reuters.

Analysts say Asmara’s withdrawal from the Inter-Governmental Authority for Development (IGAD) was the first sign of deteriorating relations between the Red Sea state and regional countries over Somalia, where the Al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab group is battling to overthrow a U.N.-backed government.

IGAD member states can suspend and reactivate their membership. Eritrea is the only country to ever do so, Reuters reports.
“I have the honour to inform you and through you the member states of IGAD that the State of Eritrea has decided to reactivate its membership in IGAD with immediate effect,” said a letter from Foreign Minister Osman Saleh sent to Mahboub Maalim, the body’s executive secretary.

A report from the U.N. Monitoring Group on Somalia obtained by Reuters on Thursday accused Eritrea of plotting to attack an African Union summit in Ethiopia in January, and of bankrolling rebels in Somalia through its embassy in Kenya.

The U.N. has slapped an arms embargo on Eritrea, as well as a travel ban and an asset freeze on Eritrean political and military leaders who it says are violating an arms embargo on Somalia.

IGAD has also called for sanctions on Eritrea’s fledgling mining sector as well as remittances it receives from its diaspora, citing its alleged support of al Shabaab.

Asmara denies the charges, and accuses the United States and neighbouring Ethiopia of “irresponsible interference”. Addis Ababa entered Somalia in 2006 — with tacit U.S. support — and ousted an Islamist group who taken over the capital and parts of the country.

Eritrea said it was “determined” to contribute to regional peace, and cited recent developments such as the independence of South Sudan and the need for a coordinated effort to tackle a regional humanitarian crisis for its re-entry.

IGAD is made up of Kenya, Uganda, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia and now Eritrea.

Eritrea was part of Ethiopia until 1993, the culmination of a brutal 30-year war for independence.

Diplomats say past IGAD meetings have been a forum for the festering feud between the two countries, who are still bitter over their 1998-2000 border conflict and locked in what many see as a proxy war in Somalia.