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UN to slap sanctions on Eritrea

UNITED NATIONS, Dec 23 – The United Nations Security Council is expected Wednesday to slap an arms embargo on Eritrea and impose targeted sanctions on its leaders for allegedly aiding Somali rebels and threatening neighboring Djibouti.

Diplomats say the 15-member body will vote overwhelmingly to pass a Ugandan-drafted resolution to ban weapons sales to and from Eritrea and impose travel restrictions on, and freeze the assets of, the country\\\’s political and military leadership.

Libya, the lone Arab member of the council and the current chair of the pan-continental African Union (AU) bloc, is the only country expected to vote against the resolution or abstain, they told AFP.

The draft demands that Asmara "cease all efforts to destabilize or overthrow, directly or indirectly" the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in Somalia.

It urges member states to conduct inspections on their territory, including seaports and airports, of "all cargo to and from Somalia and Eritrea" if there is reasonable grounds to believe it contains banned weapons or related material.

And it presses Eritrea to withdraw troops immediately from disputed territories along its frontier with Djibouti and engage in diplomatic efforts leading to "a mutually acceptable" settlement of their long-running border dispute.

The text further calls on all member states, in particular Eritrea, to stop "arming, training and equipping armed groups (including hardline Islamic militants in Somalia) that aim to destabilize the region or incite violence and civil strife in Djibouti."

It directs UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to report within 180 days on Asmara\\\’s compliance with the provisions of the resolution.

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In a letter sent this month to Security Council chair and Burkina Faso counterpart Michel Kafando, Eritrea\\\’s UN ambassador Araya Desta urged all members, "to use their influence to ensure the rejection of this draft resolution in its entirety."

He accused Washington of being, "the main architect of this resolution," which he said, "has no factual or legal justifications.

"The UN Security Council cannot penalize Eritrea for its views simply because (Asmara) does not toe or conform to Washington\\\’s policy choices and preferences," Desta charged.

Both the AU and the east African Inter-governmental Authority for Development (IGAD) bloc, which groups Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda, have been calling since July for UN sanctions against Eritrea for backing Somali rebels.

The United States has blamed Eritrea for fanning the violence in Somalia, a country that has not known peace for nearly two decades. A UN monitoring group has detailed how Asmara supplies arms and cash to Somali opposition forces.

Somalia\\\’s wobbly transitional government controls virtually no territory and has been unable to govern the country due to constant and fierce fighting with hardline Islamist militias.

On Eritrea\\\’s border dispute with Djibouti, the draft reiterates the Security Council\\\’s call in Resolution 1862 adopted in January that Asmara pull out its forces and all their equipment from disputed territories and ensure that no military presence or activity is pursued in the area.

That resolution had given Eritrea five weeks to pull out.

The dispute over the Ras Doumeira promontory on the shores of the Red Sea last flared up in June 2008 after previous clashes in 1996 and 1999.

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It has assumed a greater strategic significance because both France and the United States have bases the former French colony. The US has more than 1,200 troops stationed in Djibouti, which hosts an anti-terrorism task force in the Horn of Africa.

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