The government of Kenya, which accused the Eritrean regime of landing a plane in Baidoa, Somalia to arm Somali’s Shabab group, has threatened to bomb “any unidentified planes” if it believes they are supplying Shabab.
On November 1st, The Standard, a private news journal in Kenya, reported that it has photographed a plane, with an Eritrean flag on its tail, at an air strip in Baidoa. Since then, Kenyan military officials have stated that three airplanes had landed and that they suspect they were carrying supplies for Al Shabab.
Baidoa, the capital of the Bay region (one of Somalia’s 17 regions), is deep in the territory which is controlled by Al Shabab.
Kenya moved its army to Southern Somalia on October 17 a day after European tourists were kidnapped from its territories. Since then, the Kenyan government has said that its decision to move in to Somalia, code named Operation Linda Nichi (“Protect the nation”) had been in the works for a long time, and that it is doing it to lessen or eliminate the danger posed by Al Shabab to its own stability. The United States, which considers Kenya one of its strongest African allies, is providing support to the Kenyan military and a US legislator has called for NATO to be involved in support of Kenya.
Kenya has called the Eritrean ambassador to Kenya, Mr. Beyene Russom, to protest the Eritrean regime’s support for Al Shabab. It showed him arm caches which it believed originated in Eritrea. Just three weeks ago, the Eritrean regime’s ambassador was interviewed by Diplomat East Africa to set the record straight on the accusation that his regime has been engaged in “ un-neighborly conduct.” The ambassador professed innocence and that “all this is the work of Ethiopia.”
In an extensive report issued on July 18, 2011, the UN’s Somalia Eritrea Monitoring Group, which is mandated by the UN to investigate and report on violations to UN resolutions against funding, training and arming militant groups in Ethiopia and Somalia, had reported, among other things, that the Eritrean embassy in Kenya is used as a conduit to facilitate fund transfers to Al-Shabab and that elements within the Eritrean regime, including senior officials who report directly to President Isaias Afwerki, are responsible for managing the transfer of funds which are generated from mandatory 2% taxes imposed on Eritreans in the Diaspora, as well as a network of human smuggling and contraband goods trafficking operations.
The Eritrean regime has issued a blanket denial which is counter to the belief of the regional body, IGAD, the AU and the UN, including most if not all members of the Security Council. The United States has been particularly dismissive of the Eritrean regime’s denials: on June 9, 2009, in a wikileaks cable entitled “ignorant or lying”, the US ambassador to Eritrea muses that the “flat denial” by Eritrean officials is either due to their lack of knowledge of what the inner circle of Isaias Afwerki is up to (“ignorance”) or due a superiority complex which permeates the entire regime making it believe that it can get away with anything (compulsive lying.)
Meanwhile, the latest Kenyan accusation is unlikely to help the Eritrean regime in the upcoming UN security council resolution, co-sponsored by Gabon and Nigeria, to stiffen UN Resolution 1907 imposing arms embargo, asset freeze, and restriction of movement to regime officials who will be identified by the Monitoring Group. The Eritrean regime is dispatching its Foreign Minister, Osman Saleh, to Kenya. Kenya has said that if it doesn’t find that the Eritrean regime’s response is “persuasive”, then it will move to “the next step”, which is likely to be severing diplomatic ties between the two nations.