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November 09, 2011

Eritrea Denies Link to al-Shabab Militants

by Peter Clottey

Yemane Ghebreab, political advisor to Eritrea President Isaias Afewerki, says previous allegations against Asmara have been proven to be false

A political advisor to Eritrea President Isaias Afewerki is calling the latest accusation that Asmara is sending weapons to hard-line Somali militant group, al-Shabab, a distraction.

Kenya has expressed concern that Eritrea could be supplying arms to al-Shabab following the start of a joint military offensive against the Islamic militants by Kenya and the western backed-Somalia transitional federal government.

Yemane Ghebreab says Eritrea is more interested in strengthening bilateral relations and economic development with countries of the Horn of African.

“This is the latest fabrication we have heard about our involvement in Somalia. Previous [accusations] have been proven wrong,” said Ghebreab. “Eritrea is focused on development, and we will spend all of our energies on developing the economy and improving the lives of our people and working with our neighbors to integrate the region.”

Last week, the Kenyan foreign minister summoned the Eritrea envoy there to express concern about intelligence which suggests “there is a possibility that arms supplies are flowing from his country to al Shabab.”

But, Ghebreab denied Asmara’s involvement. He says Eritrea wants to foster good relations with Kenya and other neighbors.

“What we want to discuss with our Kenyan brothers is how to improve trade and investment between Eritrea and Kenya,  how to strengthen the Horn of Africa in terms of economic integration,” said Ghebreab. “We have been asking to visit Kenya in order to enhance our relations and that is what we want to do with the [rest of] our neighbors. So, this is why this [accusation] is a distraction.”

He adds that a delegation from Eritrea will soon visit Nairobi to hold negotiations with Kenyan officials on how best to enhance regional economic integration and cooperation.

“We want to focus and send the message to the world that Eritrea is open for business. We want to develop our economic ties, trade and investment relations with our neighbors and also globally,” said Ghebreab. “We are ready to visit Kenya anytime soon. We are just making the logistical arrangement and to see what time will be suitable for our Kenyan counterparts.”

He also called on the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in Eastern Africa to include encouraging economic cooperation among member countries.

“Even when we reactivate our membership in IGAD, our main priority for IGAD is to focus more and more on economic integration and of building infrastructural and communication links in the Horn of Africa,” said Ghebreab.

IGAD has been instrumental in resolving conflicts in the East African region.