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US plans Eritrea sanctions over Somali insurgents
Nairobi, Kenya - The US may designate Eritrea a state sponsor of terrorism for its backing for insurgents fighting the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG), a US envoy hinted here Thursday.
U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Michael Ranneberger told a news conference that Washington was considering placing Eritrea on its terror list, and had embarked on the process of gathering information which may see Asmara included in the list of state terrorism sponsors.
If Eritrea gets on the list, the US will impose sanctions on Asmara, including a ban on arms-related sales, prohibitions on some U.S. aid and U.S. opposition to international lending to Eritrea. Eritrea broke ranks with the seven-member Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in April this year over what it saw as Ethiopia's continued military presence in Somalia and demanded an immediate withdrawal of the Ethiopian troops.
Asmara has retained a hard line stance on almost every security issue under discussion among the IGAD states, including Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya, Uganda, Sudan and Somalia. Speaking during the news conference, called to update journalists on the developments in Somalia, the US envoy took issues with Eritrea's harbouring of 'elements hostile' to the TFG, including hard-line Islamist movement blamed for the constant attacks there.
Eritrea has recently tried to assemble a group of Islamist insurgents hostile to the TFG for peace talks in Asmara, in what the US sees as an open backing of the insurgents. Ranneberger said the U.S. viewed the presence of exiled Somali Islamist leaders in Asmara as further evidence that Eritrea gave refuge to terrorists.
"We are considering putting Eritrea in the list of state sponsors of terrorism. There is a process behind that and the Assistant Secretary (of State in charge of Africa Jendayi Frazer) said very clearly that there is a process to be followed before listing," Ranneberger said.
"But that Eritrea is actually supporting these guys (Islamists) and giving them loyal base is extremely disturbing," he said.
Early this month, Frazer said Washington was gathering further intelligence which could lead to Asmara being named as a state sponsor of terrorism, to be followed by sanctions.
Some 400 Somali dissidents, including members of the Diaspora, Islamists, civil society groups and ex-lawmakers, have flocked to Asmara in recent weeks to form a new opposition movement dedicated to getting Ethiopian troops out of Somalia.
The fledgling transitional government, backed by troops from Eritrea's arch rival Ethiopia, is fighting an Islamist insurgency in a conflict that has killed hundreds of people since December.
The U.S. envoy also dismissed the outcome of the Asmara meeting by Somalia opposition groups, saying it was a one-side affair aimed at removing Ethiopian troops in Somalia. He hailed Washington's "successful collaboration" with governments of Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia in tracking down al-Qaeda cells in East Africa.
"The action that we have taken have severely disrupted the al-Qaeda East Africa network that has for many many years have a strong calendar work in East Africa, not just in Kenya but also in Somalia and Horn of Africa's coast," Ranneberger said.
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