In its annual human rights country report, released March 11, the US State Department accuses Eritrea of systematically abusing human rights, as well as sponsoring terrorism in the Horn of Africa region, and acting as a source and conduit for arms to insurgents in Somalia. The report charges the Asmara government oversaw unlawful killings by its security forces last year; used arbitrary arrests, beatings and torture against opposition supporters; and severely restricted freedom of speech, the press, assembly, association and religion. Throughout 2009, “consistent and systemic gross human rights violations persisted unabated at the government’s behest,” the report said.
Citing a June report by the UN Munitions Monitoring Group, the report portrayed the Red Sea state as a destabilizing influence in the Horn of Africa. “The government acted as a principal source and conduit for arms to antigovernment, extremist, and insurgent groups in Somalia,” the State Department said.
Asmara says there is no concrete evidence for the claims, and charges Washington with inventing statistics and interfering in the region. Ties between the US and Eritrea have grown increasingly strained. In February, the US embassy in Asmara suspended its consular services and last week issued a travel warning for Eritrea. Asmara responded by accusing Washington of trying to create chaos in the country. Asmara has still not officially recognized the US ambassador, and the country’s state-controlled media are running a sustained campaign against what they call a US intervention drive. (AP, March 12)
The report was released amid a new flare-up of the fighting in Somalia, with at least 50 killed this week in Mogadishu and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees reporting that more than 100,000 Somali civilians have been forced to flee their homes across the country since the beginning of the year. (VOA, March 12)
In Washington, the State Department organized a “special briefing” with reporters March 12 to address recent media reports that suggested US forces are offering on-the-ground assistance to the transitional Somali government. “This is not an American conflict,” assistant secretary Johnnie Carson told reporters. “It will be up to the Somalis to ultimately resolve this conflict.”
Carson said the US government has not and “will not” be providing “direct support” for either a military offensive “that is apparently under way now” or “any potential military offensives” in Somalia. He added that the US government has not received any “formal or informal” requests from the Somali government for any kind of assistance, including “air support.” (Fox News, March 12)
See our last post on Eritrea, Somalia and the Horn of Africa.