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Eritrea says US masking 'invasion' of Somalia with peacekeeping plan


ASMARA (AFP) - Eritrea has lashed out at the United States for allegedly masking an "invasion" of Somalia by backing a UN Security Council resolution that would authorize peacekeepers for the country.

In a new sign of deteriorating relations between Washington and Asmara, Eritrean Information Minister Ali Abdu accused the United States Tuesday of supporting a proposal that could destabilize the entire Horn of Africa.

"The peacekeeping force has been totally authored by its architects -- the United States," he said. "It is against the wishes of the Somali people, and the US is using the peacekeeping force to cover its invasion in Somalia."

Washington plans to introduce a draft resolution at the Security Council this week to authorize a regional peackeeping mission and ease a 1992 arms embargo against Somalia in order to keep it equipped.

The move is aimed at bolstering the weak but internationally recognized Somali government, which is on the verge of all-out war with powerful Islamists in control of Mogadishu and much of southern and central Somalia.

The government has the backing of Ethiopia, which says it is ready to fight the Islamists, while Eritrea denies accusations it is arming the Islamists to cause problems for its arch-foe Ethiopia.

Ali Abdu repeated denials of Eritrean involvement in Somalia, arguing they had no reason to use the country as proxy battleground to settle unresolved scores with Ethiopia after their bloody 1998-2000 border war.

"We have never seen Somalia as a proxy battlefield with Ethiopia, and there is no reason to go there for that," he said. "The border conflict with Ethiopia is settled: what only remains is the implementation of the agreements."

Some diplomats and analysts fear that UN Security Council approval of the peacekeeping force, which the Islamists have vowed to fight, will lead to broader regional conflict, a sentiment echoed by Ali Abdu.

"It would have very dire consequences, not only for Somalia, but on security and stability in the whole region," he said. "The solution lies in the hands of the Somalis, who should be left alone to solve their own problems."

His comments come amid growing tension between the United States, which is among those accusing Asmara of meddling in Somalia, and Eritrea, which says Washington is using Ethiopia to fight the Islamists.

On Monday, the United States said it would suspend issuing tourist and business visas in Eritrea beginning next week, until Asmara allows a new US consular officer into the country.

War hurt flood relief in Somalia, U.N. says

NAIROBI , Kenya Fears of a looming war in Somalia are hampering relief efforts for up to one million people hit by severe flooding, a senior U.N. official said Friday.

Eric Laroche, the U.N.'s humanitarian chief for Somalia, said a "corridor of peace" is needed so aid can reach 400,000 people who have fled their homes to escape the worst flooding in a decade. Up to 1.8 million people have been hit by floods in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia resulting from heavy rains in East Africa.

One million of them are in Somalia, the U.N. said. Aid organizations believe more than 100 people have been killed in the region by flooding this month.

"The task ahead is huge," Laroche told journalists at a news conference in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, saying thousands are cut off and flood waters are up to 13 feet high.

In Somalia, a powerful Islamic movement has expanded control across much of the country, threatening the authority of the fragile and weak transitional government. The administration is backed by Ethiopia, the regional powerhouse, which fears a neighboring Islamic state and is accused of deploying thousands of troops in the country to support the government. Eritrea, a long-standing bitter rival of Ethiopia, is accused of providing 2,000 troops to support the Islamic group.

The Islamic movement has declared a holy war against Ethiopia because of its troop deployments. On Thursday, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said his country was prepared for war.

"I think it is not the right time to be putting oil on the fire," Laroche said. "We need a corridor of peace that allows us for a time to transport goods and reach communities."

The U.N. has hired four helicopters to help relief efforts in the region, but fears they could be shot down in war-ravaged Somalia amid the heightened tensions.

The organization estimates they need US$15 million (?11.5 million) to provide aid although that figure may rise. In Ethiopia, the government and U.N. issued a plea late Thursday for US$7 million (?5.4 million) in aid for flood victims, where 120,000 people have fled their homes.

The U.N.'s refugee agency said Friday that it was struggling to support 160,000 refugees in the three camps in northern Kenya as flooding had made roads to the camps impassable. Thousands of refugees had to flee at least one of the camps for higher ground after it flooded.

Two of Somalia's major rivers the Shebelle and the Juba burst their banks in recent weeks and both are now around 5 kilometers (3 miles) wide, said Chris Print, a water expert with the U.N. who flew over the flooded region on Thursday. He told the same news conference that he saw villages under water and emptied of people. "More flooding is expected," Print added.

The flood disaster comes on top of a 15-year civil war that has virtually destroyed the country and on the back of a severe drought across the entire region. "We were looking at an extreme crisis already and now this severe flooding is a double shock for the community," said Cindy Holleman from a food monitoring unit for Somalia. She said malnutrition is among the highest in the world.

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