July 29, 2006

Stay out of Somalia, US tells Eritrea and Ethiopia

By Pascal Fletcher

KINSHASA (Reuters) - The United States sent its most
explicit warning yet to Horn of Africa foes Eritrea and
Ethiopia on Saturday to stay out of the escalating crisis in
Somalia where they are believed to be backing rival sides.

"There are many foreign elements in Somalia right now,"
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi
Frazer said, citing reports Ethiopia was sending troops to back
the interim government and Eritrea arms for rival Islamists.

"Neither the Union of Islamic Courts nor the Transitional
Federal Government can take the high ground by saying the other
is violating Somali sovereignty...they've all invited in
foreigners, all been backed by foreign forces," she added.

Frazer, speaking to reporters on a visit to the Democratic
Republic of Congo to monitor elections there, said it was
crucial to stop Somalia becoming a regional crisis.

"You want to keep Ethiopians and Eritreans out of Somalia,
that they don't take their border conflict and move it into the
Somalia venue," she said.

Diplomats believe Addis Ababa and Asmara, which went to war
in 1998-2000 and still argue over their border, are using
Somalia's government-Islamist standoff as a proxy for their own

Ethiopia has sent several thousand troops to back the
government at its provincial base Baidoa, witnesses say.

Eritrea has armed the Islamists in the past, according to
the U.N., and is believed by many to be still sending arms and
probably advisers to their stronghold in Mogadishu.

Addis Ababa fears a hardline Islamist state as its
neighbor, accuses Mogadishu's new rulers of being terrorists,
and also fears their possible aspirations to incorporate ethnic
Somali regions such as Ethiopia's Ogaden.

Asmara, on the other hand, is motivated primarily by spite
for Ethiopia, analysts believe.

"It's conceivable there are Ethiopians in Somalia and it's
also reported the Eritreans are arming the Union of Islamic
Courts and perhaps even putting military advisers in," Frazer


Adding to a highly volatile situation, some foreign Muslim
militants are also believed to be in Somalia.

And despite its high tone, the U.S. government is accused
precipitating the crisis by sending money to a self-styled
"anti-terrorism" coalition of warlords earlier in the year,
inflaming public sentiment in favor of the Islamists.

Frazer said the international community must remain focused
on supporting the interim government, which was set up in 2004
in a Western- and African-backed peace deal for Somalia.

"The situation is extremely volatile and I think that the
best hope for the people of Somalia is that they come together
in a dialogue...to try to decide their future," she said.

"If it (the government) is in fact undermined it will set
the Somali people back many, many years and probably ensure a
future of chaos, they've had 15 years (already)," she said.