Somalia Accuses Eritrea of Illegal Arms Shipments

May 5, 2009

eritreaAircraftSomalia’s shaky new government is accusing neighboring Eritrea of arming insurgent groups in Somalia. The allegation is a repeat of events two years ago, when the United Nations accused Eritrea of secretly sending weapons to Somalia’s militant al-Shabab group.  

Somali Security Minister Omar Hashi Aden says planes loaded with weapons from Eritrea arrived last week in Somalia.

The minister says an arms shipment arrived Tuesday, and two more shipments arrived Friday at an airport on the outskirts of Mogadishu,” he said. “Aden did not say what the weapons were and to whom they were intended. But he says the government in Asmara is likely to send more because it is determined to undermine Somalia’s transitional government by arming groups opposed to it.

Two years ago, a U.N. group monitoring the arms embargo on Somalia reported that between December 2006 and June 2007, Eritrea shipped a huge quantity of arms to al-Shabab in Somalia.

In December 2006, Ethiopia intervened in Somalia to oust the Islamic Courts Union and its radical military wing al-Shabab. The al-Qaida-linked group, which is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States, violently opposed Ethiopia’s military presence in Somalia and the secular, weak transitional federal government it backed in Mogadishu.  

The monitoring group’s report said Eritrea supplied al-Shabab with various weapons, including at least six SA-18 surface-to-air missiles. One of them was used to shoot down a cargo plane in March 2007 at the international airport in Mogadishu.   

The Eritrean government dismissed the U.N. report a “total fabrication, falsely trying to show Eritrea was fighting a proxy war against Ethiopia in Somalia.” Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a border war to a stalemate from 1998 to 2002 and remain bitter enemies.

Last June, U.N. sponsored talks in Djibouti paved the way for the January withdrawal of Ethiopian troops and the merger of the transitional federal government with a moderate faction of the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia opposition group led by Sharif Sheik Ahmed.

Al-Shabab and other hard-line Islamist groups, including the hard-line faction of the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia, say the unity government of President Sharif is a “western stooge.” Attacks against the government and its supporters, and a contingent of 4,300 African Union peacekeepers in Mogadishu have continued.  

Asked to respond to the latest allegation that the government in Asmara is shipping arms to Somali insurgents, an Eritrean spokesman said his government does not recognize Somalia’s unity government and could not comment.