Kenya warns Eritrea over Shabaab arms

Friday November 4 2011

By WALTER MENYA [email protected]

Eritrean ambassador to Kenya Beyene Russom, was on Friday summoned to the Foreign Affairs ministry over reports that Asmara was arming Al-Shabaab rebels battling the Kenyan military in Somalia.

Foreign Affairs minister Moses Wetang’ula summoned Mr Russom and delivered a strongly worded protest that Nairobi will view the arming of Al-Shabaab by Asmara in a very serious light.

Severing links

The minister later told journalists that Kenya was considering all options, “including reviewing diplomatic ties”, a euphemism for severing links.

The move follows reports on Tuesday that three planes loaded with weapons for the militia landed in Baidoa, an Al-Shabaab stronghold. (READ:Shabaab gets third planeload of arms)

Reports said the arms came from Eritrea, but Asmara vehemently denied it. (READ: Eritrea denies sending arms to Al- Shabaab)

The meeting at the foreign ministry offices was attended by Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary Thuita Mwangi and Political and Diplomatic Affairs Secretary Patrick Wamoto.

“We are open-minded. In a relationship you can never say never to any issue,” Mr Wetang’ula told the press. Mr Russom did not attend the press briefing.

“The ambassador has delivered letters to me from the Eritrean foreign minister who says he wants to come and talk to us next week,” he said.

“If we get unsatisfactory explanations and answers, then we move to level two,” said Mr Wetang’ula, dropping the “reviewing diplomatic ties” hint.

Kenya, Igad and the Africa Union, the minister added, would also support enhanced sanctions against Eritrea, which has been accused of destabilising the region.

The UN Security Council is considering imposing additional sanctions. The draft resolution was circulated by Gabon on Friday October 14 and is co-sponsored by Nigeria.

“I have talked to the ambassador about the allegations and the intelligence we have. We sought an explanation which he provided on behalf of his government. In a nutshell, he denied everything, as was expected,” said Mr Wetang’ula.

Speaking on the phone, Mr Russom said Friday’s meeting was cordial. He also said he had delivered his foreign affairs minister’s request to meet Kenya officials next week.

Mr Wetang’ula said Kenya had opted for dialogue before taking further steps.

“Our options are open on every front but we want to have a process that is well-informed and leads us to achieve the best for this country,” said Mr Wetang’ula.

Political and international relations experts have supported Kenya’s increasingly tough stance towards Asmara and have urged Nairobi to exert more pressure.

Prof Frank Matanga, a political scientist at Masinde Muliro University in Kakamega, said if it is established that Eritrea is shipping arms to Al-Shabaab, then by extension the country is at war with Kenya.

Career diplomat and former Kenyan Permanent Representative to the UN in New York, Mr Ochieng Adala, said the perception is a sad commentary on the Eritrean leadership.

“Claims of Eritrean backing Al-Shabaab are preposterous because of Eritrea’s political stance and because of Al-Shabaab’s deep antipathy towards the ‘secular Eritrean state,’” Asmara said in the statement.