21 October 2006

Ethiopia: Eritrea's Proxy War Jeopardizing Regional Stability - Meles

Prime Minister Meles Zenawi on Thursday accused Eritrea of jeopardizing regional stability in its efforts to wage a proxy war against Ethiopia.

Meles said Eritrea was working with radical Islamic groups and Ethiopian rebels to create instability in Ethiopia. He also accused Asmara of breaching the six year old Algiers agreement which ended the 1998-2000 border war.

On Monday, some 1,500 Eritrean troops and 14 tanks moved into the Temporary Security Zone (TSZ) that is being monitored by UN peace keepers. Appeals by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and the Security Council that Eritrea withdraws from the TSZ have not had effect.

Meles said that Eritrea had openly violated the agreement and that as of Monday TSZ did not exist as Eritrean troops had moved into it.

Despite that, he said, Ethiopia was not going to react to the provocation and still looks to resolve the border issue peacefully.

With regard to Somalia, he told Parliament of his concern that the Union of Islamic Courts might be a threat as they are massing their troops near the Ethiopian border.

"There is danger looming. The Jihadists are amassing their forces near our borders. If this activity continues, and is found to threaten our national security, then our defense forces will have the right and obligation to defend the country," Meles said, "however, that does not mean that we will declare war."

Responding to questions about Ethiopian military presence in Somalia Meles said that there were Ethiopian officers and those were sent to provide training to the interim government's army and police.

"Of course these trainers being soldiers, they carry arms to protect themselves. Otherwise, there is no combat force," he said.

The basis sending the officers, Meles said was the agreement by IGAD and AU that a peace support mission needs to be sent into Somalia.

A senior US diplomat seems to share Meles's point of view in that she said Eritrea was planning to attack Ethiopia from Somalia.

"I think Eritrea is quite clearly attacking Ethiopia on another front. We have pretty clear evidence that that is a fact and they are shipping arms into Somalia," Jendayi Frazer, the US assistant secretary of state for Africa said.

Frazer expressed her concern that the involvement of Ethiopia and Eritrea in Somalia could expand the situation in that country into a regional conflict.

Eritrea blames the international community for not having pressurized Ethiopia to accept a border ruling by a boundary commission that awarded Badme to the former.

The town was a flash point of the war.

Meanwhile, Raymond Johansen, Norwegian State Secretary of Foreign Affairs is in Addis to hold talks with Prime Minister Meles.

Johansen who is on a round trip in the Horn, co-chaired in Nairobi, an International contact Group meeting on Somalia before his arrival in Addis.

The Norwegian Foreign Affairs official also met Eritrean president Isayas Afwerki in Asmara on Tuesday.

Norwegian Ambassador to Ethiopia, Jens-Petter Kjemprud said government is seriously concerned with the recent regional developments, and added that the current situation in Somalia and on the Ethio-Eritrean border calls for concerted international attention.

Johansen will also meet with Commissioner Said Djinnit of the African Union to discuss the Darfur crisis and other regional issues.

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