Sudan‘s security forces arrested a Somali insurgent leader while he was attempting to cross the border to Eritrea, the Somali news website Mareeg Online reported March 14 from Mogadishu. Muse Abdi Arale, defense secretary for the Hizbul Islam group, was reportedly arrested while trying to enter in Eritrea with money embezzled from the rebel group. Sheikh Hassan Mahdi, a senior official from Hizbul Islam, confirmed this version of events to Mareeg Online.
Led by Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys, Hizbul Islam is facing a leadership crisis since the defection of Sheikh Hassan Abdulahi Al-Turki to the rival Shabab militia early this year. Last week, a senior Hizbul Islam leader, Bare Ali Bar, was shot to death in Mogadishu’s Bakara district, a stronghold of the Shabab insurgents. (Sudan Tribune, March 14)
Also March 14, the insurgent faction led by Ahlu Sunna Walajama’a signed an agreement with Somalia‘s Transitional Federal Government at a meeting in Addis Abba, capital of neighboring Ethiopia. The two sides agreed to join forces and fight against the Shabab and other factions that remain in rebellion. (Mareeg Online, March 14)
Eritrea charges US propaganda
Eritrea’s government is meanwhile denying US charges that it is backing the Somali insurgents, pointing to a new United Nations report finding that Asmara’s support for the insurgency had either diminished or become less visible. Girma Asmerom, Eritrea’s ambassador to Belgium, told Voice of America: “We are not only vindicated, that is the reality and that is what we’ve been saying. And we have never ever supplied any ammunition or financial support to anybody in Somalia. So, we have been criminalized and unjustly accused for our thinking out of the box, for just simply saying that Somalis must be left alone and they should resolve their problem through their internal dynamic reconciliation conference.”
The report prepared by the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia is scheduled to be presented to the Security Council this week. It finds Asmara violated a 2008 arms embargo against various armed groups in Somalia by supporting insurgents fighting the TFG, but that President Isaias Afewerki’s government appears to have scaled down its military assistance while continuing to provide political, diplomatic and possibly financial support to insurgents. Last year, the Security Council imposed arms and travel sanctions on Eritrea for allegedly supporting the Somali insurgents.
The Security Council also expressed concern in the resolution over Asmara’s rejection of the UN-backed 2008 Djibouti Agreement between Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government and the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia (ARS). Eritrea accuses the United States of masterminding the recent UN-imposed sanctions. But diplomats reportedly said Uganda, which has peacekeeping troops in Somalia, drafted the resolution after the African Union called on the Council in May 2009 to punish Eritrea over its role in Somalia. (VOA, March 14)
Eritrea “belligerent and totalitarian” —but less so?
However, the UN report did state that in 2009 “the government of Eritrea has continued to provide political, diplomatic, financial and—allegedly—military assistance to armed opposition groups in Somalia.”
EJ Hogendoorn, director of the Horn of Africa Project at the International Crisis Group, described the Eritrean regime as “very belligerent and totalitarian.” However, he added: “That said, it does seem that the Eritrean support seems to have lessoned and it is possible that all this international pressure is having some impact.” (Media Line, March 15)
Mohamed Ibrahim Ahmed: Eritrean or Ethiopian?
Reports of the indictment in New York City last week of an Eritrean national named Mohamed Ibrahim Ahmed on charges of aiding the Shabab have sparked controversy. While most media sources, citing the federal indictment, name the suspect as an Eritrean, the foreign ministry in his former home of Sweden asserts that he is originally Ethiopian. As he holds a permanent Swedish residence permit, Ahmed has a right to consular help from Sweden while on trial in New York, but the Foreign Ministry says that it has yet to receive such a request. (Radio Sweden, March 10)
See our last post on the Horn of Africa.