Arms Flying Into Somalia for Militants, Kenya Says
One high-ranking East African official later said the shipments had come from Eritrea.
Kenya also warned residents in 10 Shabab-controlled towns to avoid contact with the militants, telling them to avoid “being used as conduits for the weapons,” as it would strike those towns soon.
“In line with the Kenya Defense Forces Strategy of diminishing Al Shabab effectiveness and weapon use,” the towns “will remain under imminent attack,” the statement said.
Kenya’s military launched a pre-meditated assault into Somalia last month with hundreds of troops backed by tanks and gunships to eradicate the Shabab. Its military joined those of Uganda and Burundi, which are contributing to an African Union peacekeeping force that is fighting the insurgents. Last month, 13 more military specialists from Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya, Uganda and Burundi came to assist the African Union peacekeepers.
But now some officials have accused Eritrea, often considered the most militarized nation in Africa, of joining the fray, too — but on the side of the Shabab.
Eritrea has long been accused of supporting the Shabab, and in 2009 the United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions on it, demanding that it “cease arming, training and equipping armed groups and their members.”
A Somali politician told Somali news media on Monday that Eritrea was funneling weapons to the Shabab into Baidoa. “Heavy artillery, bombs, light weapons,” the politician was quoted as saying.
Similarly, a Somali government spokesman restated the government’s fear that Eritrea was supporting the Shabab, arguing that it had done so in the past.
“There have been suspicions for a long time,” said Suldan A. Farahsed. “Eritrea was often financing and supporting these opposition movements. It has been well documented.”
Eritrea strongly rejected the accusations Tuesday, saying “military is not the solution” to Somalia’s problems.
“Eritrea’s desire, right from the beginning, is to see peace and stability in Somalia,” the government said in a statement. “There is no reason why Eritrea will send weapons to Al Shabab or any other groups and destabilize the country.”
To the contrary, it added, “it is evident that most of the weapons that are devastating Somalia are coming in from the regime in Ethiopia.”
Somalia’s decades-long instability has taken many turns, with nearby countries getting involved. In 2006, thousands of Ethiopian forces poured across the border to oust a rising Islamist government. But in the process a more radical offshoot of the Islamists arose: the Shabab.
Eritrea and Ethiopia have long been bitter enemies and have fought in the past. And Ethiopian troops habitually cross the Somali border — Ethiopian soldiers have been spotted near a Shabab stronghold for the last several days — and there are fears that Somalia’s conflict is acting as a proxy war between the two.
“This is something that has kind of been brewing for years, if not a decade,” said E. J. Hogendoorn, an analyst for the International Crisis Group, but he said accusations of Eritrean involvement should not be taken at face value. “There is much more overt regional involvement in Somalia right now.”
“Were this to be true,” he added, “this would regionalize the conflict much more.”
The Shabab denied the accusations Tuesday, saying they had “nothing to do with Eritrea,” according to their spokesman, Ali Mohamud Rage. “We take our weapons from the African Union.” Source nytimes