AU calls for Eritrea sanctions

The African Union (AU) on Friday called on the United Nations Security Council to take ”immediate measures” to impose sanctions on Eritrea over its support for Islamist insurgents in Somalia.

It specifically asked for ”the imposition of an aerial exclusion zone in Somalia and the blockade of ports and airports [and] sanctions against Eritrea” said Epiphanie Kabushemeye, president of the AU’s peace and security council.

Last Friday the UN Security Council voiced concern about reported Eritrean arms supplies to the Islamists, after the United States accused Eritrea of ”fanning the flames of violence” in Somalia.

Kabushemeye said the council had decided to back similar demands voiced by the InterGovernmental Authority on Development (Igad), grouping six East African nations, at their special summit in Addis Ababa on Wednesday.

Igad had also sought sanctions against Eritrea.

Kabushemeye, who represents Burundi at the AU, said the council ”expressed its serious concern” over reports that foreign fighters had joined the ranks of the Islamists in Somalia.

She said it ”condemned both states and individuals who constitute an obstacle to peace”.

The 15-member Security Council on Friday also urged the international community to help beef up security forces of the Somali transitional government and reiterated its support for the AU mission in Somalia (Amisom), which is struggling to contain the violence in the lawless country.

Kabushemeye said the AU’s peace and security council ”will examine the mandate of Amisom … in June and especially look into whether it was necessary to reinforce it in view of the situation”.

Amisom, deployed in March 2007, counts more than 4 300 Ugandan and Burundian soldiers and is currently charged with protecting strategic sites in the seaside capital such as the presidency, the port and the airport.

But it is not allowed to fight alongside government forces and is authorised to retaliate only in case of a direct attack.

Somali government troops on Friday attacked three Mogadishu districts — Tarbunka, Bakara and Howlwadag — currently controlled by the insurgents in a bloody offensive that claimed 14 lives.

The Somali extremists, who launched their offensive against the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed on May 7, have maintained their positions in Mogadishu in trenches along streets near the presidential palace.

They consist mainly of fighters from the al-Shabaab, a homegrown radical group whose leaders are suspected of links to al-Qaeda, and the Hezb al-Islamiya, another armed organisation loyal to hardline opposition leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys Aweys.

A country of seven million people, Somalia has had no effective central authority since former president Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted in 1991, setting off a bloody cycle of clashes between rival factions. — Sapa-AFP

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