Eritrea bankrolls rebels who block Somali aid, claims UN

ERITREA was behind a plot to attack an African Union summit in Ethiopia in January and is bankrolling al-Qaeda-linked Somali rebels through its embassy in Kenya, the UN said yesterday.

A United Nations Monitoring Group report on Somalia and Eritrea said the Red Sea state's intelligence officers were active in Uganda, South Sudan, Kenya and Somalia, and posed a threat to security in the famine-stricken region.

Al-Shabaab rebels have blocked aid and accused aid agencies of working to the West's agenda in Somalia

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The report said: "The plot to disrupt the African Union summit in Addis Ababa in January 2011, which envisaged mass casualty attacks against civilian targets and the strategic use of explosives to create a climate of fear, represents a qualitative shift in Eritrean tactics."

The plan was to attack the AU headquarters with a car bomb as African leaders took breaks, to blow up Africa's largest market to "kill many people" and attack the area between the prime minister's office and the Sheraton Hotel - where most heads of state stay during AU summits.

The UN said while past Eritrean support for rebels in Somalia and Ethiopia related to border disputes with Addis Ababa, the new approach threatened all of the Horn and East Africa.

It said: "The fact the same Eritrean officers responsible for the planning and direction of this operation are also involved in operations in Djibouti, Kenya, Uganda, Somalia and Sudan implies an enhanced level of threat to the region as a whole."

Asmara has repeatedly denied any involvement in funding rebel groups in the region. In June, it rejected claims it had anything to do with the Addis Ababa bomb plot as "nonsensical remarks" with no legal basis.

The UN has an arms embargo on Eritrea, as well as a travel ban and an assets freeze on its leaders alleged to be breaking an arms blockade on Somalia.

Ethiopian intelligence officials uncovered the plot to set off multiple bombs in Addis Ababa at the AU summit, usually attended by more than 30 African leaders, in January. The aim was to convince African leaders that Ethiopia was not secure, said the report.

It added that all but one of the people arrested received all their training and orders directly from Eritrean officers. The other detainee was also in contact with an Ethiopian rebel group, the Oromo Liberation Front.

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"Although ostensibly an OLF operation, it was conceived, planned, supported and directed by the external operations directorate of the Government of Eritrea, under the leadership of General Te'ame," the report said.

It also included copies of payments slips from Eritrean officials in Kenya's capital Nairobi to known members of Somali rebel group al Shabaab.It said the payments were to the tune of $80,000 a month.

"The Monitoring Group has obtained documentary evidence of Eritrean payments to a number of individuals with links to al-Shabaab. The documents were received directly from the embassy of Eritrea in Nairobi, including payment vouchers marked 'State of Eritrea'.

"The embassy of Eritrea in Nairobi continues to maintain and exploit a wide network of Somali contacts, intelligence assets and agents of influence in Kenya."

Eritrea's UN envoy denied it helped al-Shabaab and suggested payment slips were falsified.

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