Eritrea is denying a U.N. report that accuses the Horn of Africa country of supplying huge quantities of arms, including surface-to-air missiles, to Islamic insurgents in Somalia. The report also says Somalia is awash with more arms than at any time since the early 1990s, when the country descended into civil war. VOA correspondent Alisha Ryu has details from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi.
In a telephone interview with VOA from Eritrea's capital Asmara, Eritrea's Information Minister Ali Abdu dismissed the report by a U.N. monitoring group as lies used to justify U.S. support for Ethiopia's military invasion and occupation of Somalia.
"These accusations are totally unfounded accusations and the owner of these accusations is the [U.S.] State Department, because everybody knows that Mogadishu is under the occupation of Ethiopian force and [the] United States," he said.
The U.N. Security Council appointed the four-member monitoring group four years ago to report on violations of the 1992 arms embargo on Somalia.
In a report to the Security Council published on Thursday, the monitors said the Eritrean government has been secretly flying huge quantities of weapons and explosives to a radical Somali Islamic youth group known as the Shabbab.
Recently re-named the Mujahideen Youth Movement, the Shabbab has claimed responsibility for many of the daily insurgent attacks against Ethiopian and Somali troops and the internationally recognized, but weak, Somali interim government they protect.
The monitors describe what they call Eritrea's "clear pattern of involvement" in arms embargo violations, including using front companies to purchase and charter aircraft and falsifying documents to hide arms shipments.
The report says one of the shipments to the Shabbab was a consignment of six Russian-made SA-18 surface-to-air missiles, one of which was used in March to shoot down a Belarusian cargo plane at the airport in the Somali capital, Mogadishu.
The U.N. monitors say there may be more missiles in the Shabbab's arsenal, as well as suicide belts and other explosives sent from Asmara to Mogadishu.
In past reports, the monitoring group listed Eritrea as one of almost a dozen countries in Africa and the Middle East supplying money and arms to Islamists, who ruled much of southern and central Somalia for six months before being ousted in an Ethiopia-led military offensive last December.
The group's latest report suggests that the war in Somalia has become, in part, a proxy war between Eritrea and Ethiopia, who remain bitter enemies after fighting an unresolved border war from 1998 to 2002. Ethiopia still has not given up territory granted to Eritrea under an internationally mediated agreement.
But Eritrea's Information Minister Ali Abdu says that talk of a proxy war in Somalia is nonsense.
"Why should we go all the way to Somalia to wage a war?" he asked. "We do not have any problem with Ethiopia apart from the implementation of the demarcation, which is not a political issue. It is a legal issue and it will be solved legally."
The U.N. monitors noted that Ethiopia, which still has tens of thousands of armed troops in Somalia, is also in violation of the arms embargo. Addis Ababa says its weapons are legal, because its troops were invited to Somalia by the country's legitimate government.