Wednesday, November 15, 2006

By Emmanuel Goujon

Eritrean President Issaias Afewerki Wednesday slammed the United States for fanning conflicts in the Horn of Africa region, particularly in Somalia, where an imminent war threatens to engulf the volatile region. From Eritrea's independence struggle to its simmering border row with archrival Ethiopia and the unrest in the war-devastated Somalia, Afewerki blamed Washington for stoking the conflicts for its interests.

Tracing its role to the end of World War II, he said that Washington had favored the existence of Ethiopia over Eritrea that put up decades of armed struggle for independence from Ethiopia, of which it was formerly a province.

"Our conflict is historically [tied] with the United States," he said in an interview. "Eritrea could have enjoyed its right to self-determination after the Second World War, but the United States ... came with a global strategy deciding the fate of Eritrea to be somehow linked with Ethiopia because Ethiopia was considered to be a major proxy in the region," said Issaias, whose nation got independence in 1993.

He also blamed the United States for their unresolved border row with Ethiopia despite insisting that the matter had been resolved by the decision of an independent border commission in 2002.

"Why was it [ruling] not implemented? Because the United States doesn't want to implement the decision. They like to live on conflict. They create conflicts and exploit conflict. That's it," he said.

In addition, the Eritrean leader, himself chided for a raft of human rights violations in his tiny Red Sea state, said that Washington was using Addis Ababa as its "tools and puppets" to navigate and destabilize the region.

"We have no problem with Ethiopia ... As far as the border is concerned, it is resolved ... now, history is repeating itself and the United States is coming and complicating the situation," he added.

The Eritrean leader charged the world's superpower with fomenting fighting in lawless Somalia, where a powerful Islamic movement and a weak government are on the edge of an all-out war.

The Somali Islamists have accused Ethiopia of sending thousands of troops to Somalia to protect the government, but Addis Ababa maintains that it sent only a few hundred military advisers.

Tension soared after the Somali peace talks collapsed November 1, heightening fears of a conflict that diplomats and analysts fear could draw in Eritrea and Ethiopia on rival sides after their own unresolved 1998-2000 border war.

Eritrea has been accused of supplying weapons and sending some 2,000 soldiers to back the Islamists, with Issaias saying: "This is a crazy statement, not only false but insane."

And instead, Issaias said that Washington had accused the Somali Islamic leaders of links to terrorism groups, including Al Qaeda in order to intervene.

"We don't want the United States to be involved under the umbrella of fighting terrorism, because it will be a complication," he added.

The Islamists have rejected the planned deployment of peacekeepers, a position that Eritrea and Djibouti support.

"We support the choice of the Somali people. We don't accept, agree or condone any external intervention under any pretext," Issaias said. "Allow Somalis to find a solution to this problem, don't intervene. They might not find a solution instantly, but give them a chance to reconcile with themselves and reconstitute Somalia," he added.

Somalia has been without a functioning central authority since the 1991 ousting of strongman Mohamed Siad Barre, and the two-year-old transitional government has been unable to assert control.

Copyright (c) 2006 News World Communications, Inc. All rights reserved.

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