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US Hits Eritrean Role in Somalia Fighting

23 April 2007

A senior U.S. State Department official accused Eritrea Monday of helping insurgents battle forces of the Somali transitional government and Ethiopia in Mogadishu. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer said Eritrea is trying to blunt Ethiopian influence in the region. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The comments here came amid growing international concern about the situation in Somalia, where nearly a week of clashes has reportedly killed nearly 300 people and driven hundreds of thousands of Mogadishu residents from their homes.

In a talk with reporters, Assistant Secretary Frazer, who visited Somalia earlier this month, urged Somalia's transitional federal government to reach out for an "inclusive dialogue" with the country's clan leaders.

The latest fighting has pitted Ethiopian troops supporting the transitional administration against forces of two major clan factions and supporters of the Islamist movement driven from power when Ethiopia intervened in December.

Frazer said Eritrea, Ethiopia's regional rival, is not playing a constructive role and continues to fund, arm, train and advise Somali insurgents, especially the Islamist al-Shabab militia.

The Assistant Secretary said U.S. communication with Eritrea has been sparse, but that she believes the Asmara government is acting not out of any affinity for Somali extremists but rather to frustrate Ethiopia, with which it has clashed over a border dispute:

"Very clearly Eritrea has played a game of trying to oppose Ethiopia everywhere in the region. And that probably fundamentally goes back to addressing the issue of the border. I do not believe that Eritrea has taken a position of supporting extremists as a sort of ideological orientation, or a common interest with extremist elements across the region. I think that they are also supporting rebels in Darfur for the same reason," she said.

Frazer acknowledged the difficulty of achieving the kind of political dialogue she supports in Somalia as long as the security situation is so difficult.

She reiterated U.S. support for replacing Ethiopian forces in Somalia with a United Nations-authorized, eight thousand member African Union peacekeeping force.

Thus far, however, only about 15-hundred Ugandan troops have arrived, though other countries including Nigeria have expressed interest in taking part in the A.U. mission.

Frazer, who visited the western Somali town of Baidoa April 7, became the highest-ranking U.S. official to go to Somalia in more than a decade. The country has been mired in political chaos since 1991.

Officials here said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice discussed Somalia and other regional issues late Monday with Ethiopian Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin.

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