Bloomberg News

Eritrea Denies Backing Rebels Jailed for Planning Summit Attack

June 17, 2011

June 17 (Bloomberg) -- Eritrea denied providing support to an Ethiopian rebel group that had 14 members jailed earlier this month for a plot to bomb an African Union summit.

Ethiopia’s government said on June 9 that members of the Oromo Liberation Front who received sentences ranging from nine years to life for attempting to attack the January summit in Addis Ababa were trained and backed by the Eritrean government.

“Any allegation claiming that the opposition in Ethiopia or the region as a whole are sponsored by Eritrea’s material and military assistance is but an act of pure recrimination that totally lacks concrete evidence,” Eritrea’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement e-mailed yesterday. “Eritrea has nothing to do with Ethiopia’s internal problems.”

The OLF has waged a 38-year campaign for autonomy in Oromia, the biggest of Ethiopia’s nine federal states, on behalf of the Oromo ethnic group. The rebel group has denied any involvement in a plot to attack the summit.

In April, Ethiopia’s Foreign Ministry said it will back Eritrean rebels trying to overthrow the government of Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki unless that country changes its policies of regional destabilization. Eritrea’s ambassador to the African Union, Girma Asmerom, denied his country is fomenting instability and said the stance was “pure aggression and a declaration of war.”

Eritreans voted in a 1993 referendum for independence from Ethiopia. The two countries fought a 1998-2000 border conflict in which an estimated 70,000 people were killed, according to the Brussels-based International Crisis Group. Skirmishes between Ethiopian and Eritrean troops occasionally break out along their 912-kilometer (567-mile) border.

Evidence of Terrorism

“Evidence abounds all over the world” that Eritrea supports terrorism, Ethiopian State Minister of Communications Shimeles Kemal said in a phone interview yesterday from Addis Ababa.

“The accused have testified in an open court how they were trained and supported by Eritrea, they even identified intelligence officers in Eritrea,” he said. The statement by the Eritrean Foreign Ministry was a “desperate act on behalf of a regime which is increasingly isolated by the international community due to its delinquent behavior.”

The United Nations Security Council in December 2009 voted 13-1 in favor of sanctions against Eritrea, including an arms embargo, travel restrictions and an asset freeze, partly for supporting al-Shabaab, a Somalia-based terrorist organization that the U.S. accuses of having links to al-Qaeda.

The sanctions were imposed because of Eritrea’s stance in rejecting Western-backed military intervention in the wartorn nation and calling for a “Somalia-owned, all inclusive” political solution, Girma said in an interview in Addis Ababa.

“Under law, you are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty,” he said yesterday. “No one has brought any evidence of Eritrean support for al-Shabaab. The resolution was unjustified, immoral and illegal.”

--Editors: Paul Richardson, Heather Langan.

To contact the reporter on this story: William Davison in Addis Ababa via Nairobi at pmrichardson@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Richardson in Nairobi at pmrichardson@bloomberg.net.


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