The UN Security Council has voiced concern over reports that Eritrea has been supplying arms to Islamist militants intent on toppling Somalia’s new government and condemned the recent violence.
The 15-nation council Friday demanded that Somali opposition groups immediately end the violence and join reconciliation efforts in the lawless Horn of Africa state, Reuters says.
“The Security Council … expresses its concern over reports that Eritrea has supplied arms to those opposing the (government of) Somalia in breach of the U.N. arms embargo,” the statement said.
It also called for an investigation of the reports.
In an accusation backed by some security experts and diplomats, Somalia’s government said earlier this month that Asmara continues to support al Shabaab militants with planeloads of AK-47 assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and other weapons.
Eritrea rejects accusations that it sends weapons to the al Qaeda-linked Islamist militants fighting Somalia’s government.
“We have never done this — it is totally false and misleading,” said Eritrea’s UN Ambassador Araya Desta. He said Eritrea had never given financial or military support to opposition factions in Somalia.
“The historical relationship that exists between Eritrea and Somalia is still intact, we fully respect them and we anticipate peace and stability in the country — that is our goal,” said Desta.
One diplomat said the Security Council statement was significant for singling out Eritrea by name. It usually refers to “third countries” or “outside” parties, he said.
Fighting between al Shabaab militants — who admit to having foreigners in their ranks — and pro-government fighters has killed at least 139 people and sent some 27 000 fleeing the pock-marked, seaside capital Mogadishu this month.
The Security Council expressed “concern at the loss of life and the worsening humanitarian situation arising out of the renewed fighting.”
Somalia’s 18 years of anarchy has left millions displaced, killed tens of thousands and created one of the world’s worst aid crises. Attacks on relief workers, extortion and regular clashes have hampered groups trying to work there.
Aid organizations warned on Thursday that Somalia’s worst fighting in months was aggravating an already dire humanitarian emergency.
Somalia has been a byword for anarchy since a dictatorship was overthrown in 1991. Currently, large parts of south and central Somalia are under the control of al Shabaab insurgents and allied Islamist fighters.
The UN Security Council has long been under pressure from African states to send a UN force to Somalia, but repeatedly delayed deciding. It is due to consider the matter again by June 1.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recommended in a report to the Security Council last month that the best approach would be to step up support for African Union peacekeepers already in Somalia, known as AMISOM, and for Somali security forces.
If that is successful, the United Nations could gradually build up a UN presence and take over from AMISOM. Indonesia has said it would be willing to lead and provide troops for an eventual UN peacekeeping mission in Somalia.
Ban has cautioned that sending UN blue helmets to Somalia any time soon would be a high-risk move that would likely prompt attacks against the peacekeepers.
Somalia’s moderate Islamist leader Sheikh Sharif Ahmed was sworn in as president in January, promising to forge peace with east African neighbors, tackle rampant piracy offshore and rein in hard-line insurgents.