By EDITH M. LEDERER
2011-07-29 07:52 AM
Somalia and Eritrea are being used by foreign
armed groups that represent "a grave and increasingly urgent threat to peace and security" in the Horn of Africa and East Africa, a U.N. panel said in a report circulated Thursday.
The 471-page report by experts monitoring U.N. sanctions against the two countries said Somalia's dominant militant group al-Shabab controls the greater part of southern Somalia mainly because of the transitional government's "lack of vision or cohesion, its endemic corruption and its failure to advance the political process."
Although Al-Shabab lacks political support and faces political divisions and military limitations, the experts said, it is able to exert control because of its economic strength.
The Monitoring Group estimated that al-Shabab currently generates between $70 million and $100 million annually from taxation and extortion in areas it controls, notably from the export of charcoal and cross-border contraband into neighboring Kenya.
"Al-Shabab's core leaders have also responded to domestic difficulties by seeking to align themselves more closely with foreign jihadist entities and to provide a platform for like-minded groups in the region," the report said.
Last July's bombings in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, that killed 76 people were the first successful al-Shabab operation outside Somalia. Al-Shabab said the bombings were retaliation for Uganda's participation in the African Union's peacekeeping mission in Mogadishu.
The U.N. experts said the Kampala bombings "signaled a new and alarming trend, in which East African extremist groups inspired and mentored by al-Shabab, including the Muslim Youth Center in Kenya, might represent the next generation of extremist threats in East Africa and the wider region."
The report said neighboring Eritrea's continuing relationship with Al-Shabab "appears designed to legitimize and embolden the group rather than to curb its extremist orientation or encourage its participation in a political process."
"Moreover, Eritrean involvement in Somalia reflects a broader pattern of intelligence and special operations activity, including training, financial and logistical support to armed opposition groups in Djibouti, Ethiopia, the Sudan and possibly Uganda," it said.
The panel said such support is a violation of U.N. sanctions including an arms embargo imposed against Eritrea in 2009 for supplying weapons to Islamic insurgents opposed to the Somali government and refusing to resolve a border dispute with neighboring Djibouti.
Eritrea's support for these armed groups should be understood not only in the context of the country's unresolved border dispute with Ethiopia, but as a result of the "systematic subversion" of the government by a relatively small number of political, military and intelligence officials who engage in illicit activities including people smuggling, arms trafficking, money-laundering and extortion.
The Monitoring Group said it concluded that the Eritrean leadership committed multiple sanctions violations.
"Most significantly, in January 2011, the government of Eritrea conceived, planned, organized and directed a failed plot to disrupt the African Union summit in Addis Ababa by bombing a variety of civilian and governmental targets," it said.
While many Eritreans may harbor legitimate grievances at Ethiopia for refusing to implement the boundary decision that ended their 1998-2000 border war, the expert panel said the means Eritrea's leaders apparently intend to use to pursue their objections "are no longer proportional or rational."
"Moreover, since the Eritrean intelligence apparatus responsible for the African Union summit plot is also active in Kenya, Somalia, the Sudan and Uganda, the level of threat it poses to these other countries must be re-evaluated," it said.
The panel said leaders in Somalia and Eritrea often depend more heavily on political and economic support from foreign governments and their own diasporas than from their local populations.
"And both countries _ in very different ways _ serve as platforms for foreign armed groups that represent a grave and increasingly urgent threat to peace and security in the Horn and East Africa region," it said.
Telephone calls to Eritrea's U.N. Mission and Somalia's U.N. Mission seeking comment were not answered.