Eritrea has only a short time to stop undermining security in Somalia or face possible UN sanctions, Washington’s ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, said.
Rice told a congressional committee the US was “deeply concerned and very frustrated” with Eritrea’s behaviour in Somalia, including arming and funding Islamist insurgents.
“It is unacceptable, and we will not tolerate it, and nor will other members of the Security Council,” she told the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
The UN Security Council warned Eritrea this month it would consider action against anyone undermining peace in Somalia.
“We will continue to discuss with colleagues in the Security Council appropriate measures, including potentially sanctions, against Eritrea for its actions in Somalia,” Rice said.
“There is a very short window for Eritrea to signal through its actions that it wishes a better relationship with the US and indeed the wider international community.
“If we do not see signs of that signal in short order, I can assure you that we will be taking appropriate steps with partners in Africa and the Security Council,” she said.
Somalia’s government and others have accused Eritrea of supplying arms to insurgents in breach of a UN embargo that allows such shipments only to the government.
The AU, which has a force of 4300 peacekeepers in Somalia, has called on the UN to impose sanctions on Eritrea for backing the rebels.
Eritrean officials deny the charges of arms supplies.
Sanctions may not be easy
UN diplomats in New York said imposing sanctions against Eritrea might not prove so easy.
The chairman of the Security Council’s sanctions committee, Mexican Ambassador Claude Heller, told Reuters that during a closed-door council meeting, several members had urged adding some Eritreans to the sanctions list for backing rebels in Somalia.
Diplomats said the US, Britain, France and Mexico were among those supporting the idea, but China was worried the already difficult communication with Asmara could be made impossible if any Eritrean individuals or companies were sanctioned.
“The Somalia sanctions process is moving very slowly,” a Western diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity. Another diplomat said it might be difficult to persuade China, which has extensive economic interests in Africa, to support any punitive measures against Eritrea.
Al Qaeda-linked fighters belonging to the al Shabaab insurgent group control much of southern and central Somalia and most of the capital Mogadishu.
Rice said the Eritreans had rebuffed repeated UN attempts to discuss the situation. She said Eritrea had essentially “stiffed and stonewalled” the UN.
Pic: Somalia militants