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Amid Famine in Horn of Africa, US Wants Sanctions on Eritrea, UN Ignores Mercenaries of Saracen, Likes Sufi Militia

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, August 10 -- Amid news of famine in Somalia, and some say Eritrea too, Inner City Press on Wednesday asked US Ambassador Susan Rice to confirm that the Obama administration is indeed seeking additional sanctions, including against the Isaias Afwerki government's tax on remittances to that country.

Ambassador Rice gave a long response, initially not address the Eritrean famine issue:

"The United States is very, very concerned about Eritrea's behavior in the region. Its support for Al-Shabaab, its support to destabilize its neighbors is documented quite thoroughly and persuasively in the report of the special panel. We heard during the session last month from virtually all of Eritrea's neighbors that they face a pattern of destabilization that is quite troubling and quite disturbing. Moreover, we're profoundly troubled and we have clearly condemned the support that Eritrea lent to the terrorist attack that was planned for-to coincide with the African Union summit last January in Addis Ababa. We think that's an absolutely abhorrent development, and we think it merits the full attention of the Council. Yes, the United States is very much interested in additional pressure and sanctions being applied on Eritrea. This is something that we'll continue to discuss and debate in the Security Council. But from the U.S. point of view, we think that that is timely."

  Inner City Press then asked Ambassador Rice if the US believes there is a famine in Eritrea, and if so if further sanctions might not make that worse. Rice replied:

"any measures to be contemplated would be carefully targeted and would not go in any way to harm the people of Eritrea, who are suffering enough as it is. We believe there is a famine in Eritrea, but we're deeply concerned that none of us know because they have barred UN agencies, barred NGOs. It has become a black hole in terms of governance and humanitarian ground truth. And the people of Eritrea, who must...most likely are suffering the very same food shortages that we're seeing throughout the region are being left to starve because there is not access, there's a clear cut denial of access by the government of Eritrea of food and other humanitarian support for its people."

Ambassador Rice cited the Somalia and Eritrea sanctions Monitoring Group report, as later on Wednesday did UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's envoy to Somalia Augustine Mahiga.

  Actually, when Mahiga in a video conference briefing from Mogadishu talked about supporters of Al Shabaab, he mentioned people in the Gulf and Middle East. Inner City Press asked him, did this mean Eritrea is not a major supporter of Al Shabaab?

  Mahiga called Eritrea a "middleman" that funnels others' money to Al Shabaab. Later in his briefing Inner City Press asked Mahiga about other parties named in the Monitoring Group report, which he had not mentioned. Private military contractor Saracen, for example, was named as a violator of sanctions for its actions in Puntland.

Mahiga said he visited Puntland and Saracen is mostly gone, it "trained trainers" who themselves remain.

Susan Rice with Ban, envoy silent on PMC Saracen

Last December 27, 2010, Inner City Press reported:

December 27 -- Amid growing doubts about private military contractor Saracen working for the Somali Transitional Federal Government and Puntland, the lawyer for the program, former US Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Pierre Prosper, spoke to a half dozen UN correspondents on December 23, ostensibly on background.

  In remarks subsequently disseminated, Prosper said that he was briefing the Group of Experts of the UN's Somalia Sanctions Committee but would not yet provide the name of the program's funder, due to concerns the UN would leak it.

  Afterward, Inner City Press on the record asked the outgoing chairman of the UN's Somalia Sanctions Committee, Claude Heller of Mexico, if he or the Committee had been briefed about the use of PMCs or mercenaries in Somalia. No, Heller said, he had only read about it in the newspapers. Video here.

  With Mexico leaving the Council at the end of the month, India is to be given the chair of the Somalia Sanctions Committee, as first exclusively reported by Inner City Press. Will Saracen reach out to India? We will be asking.

Inner City Press asked about Ethiopia's support of and links to Ahlu Sunna. Mahiga called it a "Sufi militia" -- "very helpful," he said.

Next to him, the AMISOM force commander Fred Mugisha nodded. Apparently, Ahlu Sunna is the UN and AMISON favored militia. The Monitoring Group report says that Ethiopia never even sought Sanctions Committee approval for its work with this militia. As one wag concluded, when it's all among friends.... Watch this site.

Footnote: Inner City Press three times asked Mahiga what message the UN had for the Transitional Federal Government about it human rights record. The first two times he did not answer -- on the second, he diverged into a description of Al Shabaab "foreign fighters from Chechnya, Waziristan and Yemen."

  The third and final time, he said that the TFG is improving, and of course these things happen in war. He said he didn't know if the TFG was involved in shooting into a crowd of aid-seekers in Mogadishu on August 5. We'll see.

Click for July 7, 11 re Sudan, Libya, Syria, flotilla

Click for Mar 1, '11 re Libya, Sri Lanka, UN Corruption

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These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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