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Friday, January 12, 2007

Eritrea warns of "consequences" for U.S. in Somalia

ASMARA, Jan 12 (Reuters) - Eritrea warned the United States on Friday that its involvement in Somalia would "incur dangerous consequences" following a U.S. air strike in the Horn of Africa nation targeting al Qaeda suspects.

Eritrea has in a matter of years gone from being a U.S. ally to one of its staunchest opponents, analysts say, because of what Asmara perceives as Washington's support for rival Ethiopia in a long-standing border dispute.

"President Isaias Afwerki underlined that the turmoil being created in ... Somalia by the U.S. administration through its mercenary agent (Ethiopia) would incur dangerous consequences," a statement on the Information Ministry Web site said.

A senior U.S. official said Monday's air strike on Somalia killed up to 10 al Qaeda-affiliated "terrorists", but three of the most wanted suspects survived in the first overt U.S. military action since a peacekeeping mission ended in 1994.

The Eritrean government recently accused Washington of being behind the war in Somalia where the interim government backed by Ethiopia routed the once-powerful Islamists in a two-week war.

Asmara has repeatedly denied Ethiopian allegations it sent thousands of Eritrean soldiers to fight alongside the Islamists. Western nations have accused Eritrea of using Somalia as a proxy battleground against neighbour Ethiopia.

The Horn of African countries fought a 1998-2000 border war, which killed an estimated 70,000 people.

The Eritrean Information Ministry statement said Isaias called on the international community to take "serious measures without underestimating the existing dangerous situation".

The U.S. attack was criticised by the United Nations, many European countries and the Arab League.

The United States called on Friday for the speedy deployment of African peacekeepers to Somalia to stop what it called a security vacuum that could trigger fresh fighting.

Ethiopia, Washington's major counter-terrorism ally in the Horn of Africa, has said it would keep its troops in Somalia for a few weeks to help Somalia's interim government in what is the 14th attempt to restore central rule in the country since dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was toppled in 1991.
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