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Eritrea and Somalia: A decade of animosity

Tuesday July 31, 2018

Eritrea, which signed on Monday a deal with Somalia to establish diplomatic ties, has long been accused of supporting Islamic militants who are seeking to topple the interim government in Mogadishu.

The agreement follows another recent flurry of diplomacy in the region, between Eritrea and Ethiopia, marking a new era for relations between countries in the Horn of Africa.

Here is some background on more than ten years of tensions.

Islamic tribunals in Somalia

In July-August 2006 Somalia's transition government accuses Eritrea of sending troops and weapons to the Islamic tribunals militia that have taken control of Mogadishu and a large part of southern and central Somalia, which shares a large part of its border with Ethiopia.

Eritrea rejects the accusations, which claim it is backing Islamists in Somalia to carry out an indirect fight against its Ethiopian rival.

Ethiopia supports the Somali transitional government. Its relations with Eritrea have been very tense since a bloody war between the two countries from 1998 to 2000.

A report from the UN in November 2006 states Eritrea sent 2 000 fighters to Somalia to join forces with the Islamic tribunals.

In December the Ethiopian army invades Somalia and pushes out the Islamic tribunals in a matter of days. Leaders and supporters of the tribunals take refuge in several countries in the region.

The Ethiopian invasion crushes the Islamist administration but sparks a bloody uprising and spurs the emergence of the even more radical Al Shabaab militants.

In January 2009, Islamist leader Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed becomes president of a transitional administration in Somalia, turning against the regime in Eritrea that had once been an ally.

In May that year for the first time he accuses Eritrea of arming and financing Islamists that have launched a major offensive to topple him.

UN sanctions

The UN Security Council in 2009 imposes an arms embargo and targeted sanctions on Eritrea for its alleged support of the Shabaab militants.

In 2011 a UN surveillance team affirms that Eritrea arms and assists the Shabaab. Asmara denies it is backing the rebels.

In 2016 the UN Security Council renews sanctions on Eritrea, but five members from the 15-member council abstain.

China, Russia, Angola, Egypt and Venezuela point to a report by sanctions monitors who say there is no evidence Eritrea is backing Shabaab militants in Somalia.

Ethiopia calls on the UN to lift the sanctions on Eritrea.

'New chapter'

On July 28, 2018 Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed arrives in Asmara for an official three-day visit.

"Somalia is ready to write a new chapter of its relations with Eritrea," a spokesperson for the Somali president says on Twitter.

Two days later Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki and Mohamed sign in Asmara a deal to establish diplomatic ties after more than a decade of tensions.


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