Saturday, November 5, 2011

Kenya seeks UN audience as Eriterian envoy blames Ethiopia for diplomatic row

Eritrea President Isaias Afewerki. Photo/FILE

Eritrea President Isaias Afewerki. Photo/FILE 

By KEVIN J KELLEY in New York and WALTER MENYA in Nairobi [email protected]

Kenya’s ambassador to the United Nations is expected to seek audience with the President of the UN Security Council regarding Nairobi’s military intervention in Somalia.

At the same time, the UN’s top body is considering a request by Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki to address the full council.

Mr Afwerki is believed to be eager to head off additional UN sanctions against Eritrea related in part to his country’s alleged involvement in Somalia’s civil war.

Kenya has accused Eritrea of supplying arms to the Al-Shabaab militants that Kenyan forces are now battling in southern Somalia.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has remained silent on Kenya’s intervention in Somalia.

Portuguese UN ambassador Jose Filipe Moraes Cabral told reporters on Friday that he will be meeting “at the beginning of next week” with Kenya’s ambassador, Mr Macharia Kamau.

Mr Kamau wrote to the Security Council last month to explain why its forces have entered Somalia.

He said then that Kenya’s action was being coordinated with Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government.

The United States, which wields veto power on the Security Council, is apparently opposing President Afwerki’s request to speak to the 15-nation group.

“I think any time you bring together leaders at that level with the degree of tension that exists between them, it’s not going to promote improved relations or greater peace and stability,” US ambassador Susan Rice is quoted as having told Inner City Press on Thursday.

“So I think we have to be very cautious about it and thoughtful about it.”

No objection

In Nairobi, the Eritrean envoy Beyene Russom on Saturday declared that his government does not object to the ongoing Operation Linda Nchi by the Kenya Defence Forces against Al-Shabaab insurgents.

The ambassador was on Friday summoned to the ministry of Foreign Affairs to explain allegations that his government was arming the Somali terrorist group linked with Al-Qaeda.

Foreign Affairs minister Moses Wetang’ula also delivered a strong warning that Nairobi would consider cutting ties with Asmara over the latter’s association with the militant group.

On Saturday, Mr Russom told the Sunday Nation that his government has no objection to the incursion by the Kenya Defence Forces.

“Why should we have an objection? Kenya as a government must have done its homework before they initiated this operation. We believe Kenya should have a peaceful neighbour and it has found it right to deal with the situation in this manner,” the envoy said.

He blamed the “misunderstanding” and allegations of arms transfer to Al-Shabaab on Ethiopia and the media which he said were fanning a campaign to discredit President Isaias Aferwerki’s regime.

“We have nothing against Kenya. This piling up of accusations is the work, as we believe, of Ethiopia to camouflage its illegal military occupation of Eritrean territory. What is being said now about the planeload of weapons to Al-Shabaab again we believe is a creation of Ethiopia,” said Mr Russom.

The envoy criticised the media for reporting the accusations without providing any evidence.

“From the very beginning they (media) should have tried to find out the truth because this kind of reporting creates enmity and animosity between the two peoples of Kenya and Eritrea,” Mr Russom said.

“I want to reiterate my government’s stand that we are true friends of Kenya. We have never done anything wrong that jeopardises our diplomatic stay and our diplomatic activities in Kenya.”

On Mr Wetang’ula’s warning that Nairobi would cut ties, Mr Russom said his country was worried that the Kenya government was acting on wrong information.

Mr Wetang’ula had on Friday told the envoy that Kenya would consider reviewing ties with Eritrea.

Briefing the media after their Friday meeting, Mr Wetangula said Kenya was not ruling out “reviewing diplomatic ties” with Eritrea — a euphemism for cutting ties — if Eritrea fails to give satisfactory explanations.

“We are open-minded. In a relationship you can never say never to any issue,” the minister said. “As a country if we get unsatisfactory explanations and answers then we move to level two.”

Kenya along with IGAD and Africa Union, the minister added, would also support enhanced sanctions against Eritrea which has been identified as a destabilising force in the region.

Eritrea is sending its top diplomat, Foreign minister Osman Saleh Mohammed, to Nairobi for a meeting with Mr Wetang’ula early this week in a bid to calm down the tensions between the two countries.

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