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clinton africa, clinton ahmed, clinton eritrea, hillary clinton eritrea, Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed
Khalil Senosi/AP
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, right, and Somali President Sheik Sharif Sheik
Ahmed, during a press conference at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2009.

Clinton Threatens Action Over Eritrea's Alleged Somali Militant Support

August 07, 2009 05:00 PM
by Liz Colville
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, amid intelligence reports that Eritrea is supporting Islamic militants in neighboring Somalia, called the actions "unacceptable."

Eritrea Denies Ties to al-Shabab

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While on a tour of Africa, Secretary of State Clinton met Aug. 6 with President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed of Somalia in Nairobi, Kenya. Afterwards, she announced that the U.S. would "expand support for Somalia's unity government," the BBC reported. The unity government is also known as the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), allAfrica's Seratu Abiola explains in a report on Clinton's visit.

Al-Shabab, Eritrea's group of Islamic militants, is "growing in strength," the BBC reports, and is apparently "attempting to seize control of [Somali capital] Mogadishu from the more moderate TFG," allAfrica reports. "Fierce fighting has forced thousands to flee the capital city."

"If al-Shabaab were to obtain a haven in Somalia which could then attract al-Qaida and other terrorist actors, it would be a threat to the United States," Clinton was quoted as saying by allAfrica in a news conference.

With regard to Eritrea, which is narrowly separated from Somalia by Ethiopia, "It is long past time for Eritrea to cease and desist its support of al-Shabab and to start being a productive rather than a destabilising neighbour," Clinton was quoted as saying by the BBC.

"We are making it very clear that their actions are unacceptable. We intend to take action if they do not cease," she added.

While in Nairobi, Clinton attended a wreath-laying ceremony in honor of the victims of the 1998 al-Qaeda attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Al-Shabab is based in Somalia but used Eritrea to the north as its base after Ethiopian troops moved in to Somalia in 2006. Al-Shabab "favours strict Islamic law and is accused of links to al-Qaeda," according to the BBC. The group "is gaining support from militants around the world."

Eritrea "has consistently denied that it provides arms to al-Shabaab," allAfrica adds.

Background: Conflict in Somalia

The current problems Somalia faces can be attributed to several factors and events.

Somalia has been without a stable government since the overthrow of Mohammed Siad Barre in 1991, according to findingDulcinea's Web Guide to the Conflict in Somalia.

As Al-Jazeera explains, "UN and US peacekeepers hurriedly left in the 1990s after suffering some of the worst casualties and humiliation in the history of peacekeeping initiatives."

This created a "power vacuum" and the country lacked "a central government" as well as outside security and peacekeeping help. From 2002 to 2003, "a group of Somali youth, angry with the lack of progress in attempts to establish a government, joined ranks to push their goal to create (by any means necessary) a state governed by Islamic Sharia law."

Al-Jazeera calls the current war, "sustained by armed Islamist and clan militias," "one of the bloodiest wars in Africa's recent history." The article goes on to describe the rise of al-Shabab, which continues to grow in strength even after its leader, Adan Hashi Ayro, was killed by a U.S. missile on May 1.

The country has also been burdened by a poor international image due to a spike in piracy off its shores over the past year.

In March, President Ahmed agreed to institute a lenient form of sharia law in response to rebel demands, but this did not quell military activity in the country.

Sharia law generally calls for the separation of unrelated men and women. It also bans music and requires women to envelop themselves in public and men to wear beards, according to the Council on Foreign Relations article "Islam: Governing Under Sharia."

NEXT: Moderates Take Up Arms in Fight for Future of Somalia

Reference: Country profile of Eritrea

FindingDulcinea's country profile of Eritrea provides links to articles and reference sites explaining the history of the country, notable events and conflicts, and information on recent developments and outside perspectives.
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