UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
ERITREA: Gov't denies giving military support to Sudanese rebels
ASMARA, 29 Jun 2005 (IRIN) - The Eritrean government has denied giving military support to rebels in eastern Sudan, saying that such accusations by the government in Khartoum were an exercise in public relations.
The remarks follow a complaint filed by Sudan to the UN Security Council on Monday accusing Eritrea of providing military assistance to rebel groups, including artillery, reconnaissance and logistics, during recent clashes in the east.
Fighting broke out in northeast Sudan on 19 June, outside the town of Tokar, between rebels of the Eastern Front - a movement formed in February when the Beja Congress merged with another eastern rebel group, the Rashaida Free Lions - and Sudanese troops.
The rebels claimed to have destroyed three government camps and captured government soldiers and weaponry.
"With regard to the accusation, they have made it before," Ali Abdu, the Eritrean information minister, said on Tuesday. "We have never allowed ourselves to be dragged into that Tom and Jerry game. We never support them [the Sudanese rebels] militarily."
Sudanese rebel groups have a presence in Eritrea's capital, Asmara, which has soured relations between Eritrea and Sudan for more than 10 years.
In 1994, diplomatic relations were cut. The border between the two countries was officially closed in 2002, following fighting in eastern Sudan just across the boundary from Eritrea.
Abdu said foreign observers had been unable to find any evidence of Eritrean military involvement in 2002, either.
"The Libyan government sent a fact-finding mission to this area, and they categorically reported finding no Eritrean military presence," he said.
Abdu hoped Sudanese-Eritrean relations would improve when the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) joins the Sudanese government next month. The two parties signed a peace deal in Kenya in January to end more than 20 years of civil war.
The information minister insisted that Eritrea had always wanted to see a comprehensive peace in Sudan. In 1995, Sudanese opposition groups met in Eritrea, forming the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), Sudan's alliance of opposition groups.
In 2000, Eritrea also hosted the first public meeting between Sudanese President Umar Hassan al-Bashir and NDA Chairman Mohamed Osman al-Mirghani.
On 24 June, the rebels who recently clashed with government forces in the east accused Khartoum of using planes to bomb civilians near the Eritrean border.
Taisier Ali, secretary-general of the Sudan Alliance Forces, a Sudanese opposition group based in neighbouring Asmara, said they thought the planes were Russian-made Antonov bombers attacking from a high altitude.
Abd-al-Basit Sabdarat, the Sudanese minister of information and communication, dismissed the rebels’ claims that government planes had bombarded civilians in eastern Sudan: "The government did not use [war] planes, nor did it carry out any air raid on any region in eastern Sudan."
Diplomats in Asmara warned that the east could become Sudan's next flashpoint, given that rebels in the region had complained of neglect and marginalisation by the government in Khartoum.
The rebels have controlled a small piece of territory in eastern Sudan, adjacent to Eritrea, since the late 1990s. They have clashed intermittently with government forces in the east since 1996, but tension has risen in recent months.
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