US Considers Terror Label for
by Matthew Lee
Associated Press Writer
The Bush administration is preparing a
case to designate the Red Sea state of Eritrea a "state sponsor
of terrorism" for its alleged support of al-Qaida-linked
Islamist militants in Somalia, the top U.S. diplomat for Africa
Officials are now compiling evidence of
Eritrean backing for the extremists to support the designation,
a rare move that would impose severe sanctions on the impoverished
nation and put it in the same pariah category as Cuba, Iran, North
Korea, Sudan and Syria, said Jendayi Frazer, the assistant secretary
of state for African affairs.
"We have to put together the case
against them, that information is being collected right now,"
Frazer said. "The information so far that we've collected
is fairly convincing about their activities in terms of 'state
sponsor' in Somalia."
"It will be evaluated through an
interagency process and then decisions will be taken," she
said, without providing a timeline. She said Eritrea had been
informed of the possible action "through private channels."
Frazer, speaking at a briefing called
to discuss deteriorating relations between the United States and
the increasingly authoritarian country, said Washington agreed
with a recent report by U.N. experts that found Eritrea to be
the primary source of weapons and cash for Islamist insurgents
"We do have intelligence that affirms
what's in the monitoring report," she said, adding that while
the information is being collected Eritrea has a chance to change
its behavior and avoid the designation. "What we cannot tolerate
is their support for terror activity, particularly in Somalia."
The U.N. report, obtained by The Associated
Press last month before its official release, says the Islamist
insurgents in Somalia have enough surface-to-air missiles, suicide
vests and explosives to sustain their war against the internationally
backed Somali government, largely due to secret shipments from
It says Eritrea has shipped a "huge
quantity of arms" to the insurgents, known as the Shabab.
The shipments continued despite U.N. efforts to bring peace to
Somalia and the deployment of African Union peacekeepers.
Eritrean officials could not immediately
be reached for comment on Friday but they have repeatedly denied
providing any assistance to the Shabab, the militant wing of an
Islamic group that ruled much of southern Somalia for six months
last year until Eritrea's arch-foe Ethiopia invaded in December
and ousted them.
U.S. officials believe the militants have
close ties to al-Qaida and are harboring several suspects wanted
for the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
The "state sponsor of terrorism"
designation is rarely used and represents a near death sentence
for diplomatic relations with the United States. Washington maintains
a diplomatic presence in three of the countries now on the list
_ Cuba, Sudan and Syria _ but does not have an ambassador in any
Those on the list are banned from receiving
all non-emergency U.S. aid and subject to a host of financial
sanctions. It also penalizes people, firms and third countries
that engage in trade with designees.
The last country added was Sudan in 1993
and only two countries have been removed from the list: Iraq after
the U.S.-led invasion and ouster of Saddam Hussein in 2003 and
Libya last year after it renounced terrorism and weapons of mass
Ties between the United States and Eritrea
have steadily declined in recent years with U.S. officials complaining
of Eritrea playing a destabilizing role in the Horn of Africa
through its continued animosity with regional foe Ethiopia, its
activities in Somalia and support for rebels in Sudan.
At the same time, Washington accuses Asmara
of clamping down on internal dissent, hindering the work of aid
workers and interfering with U.S. diplomatic work in the country.
Earlier this month, the State Department ordered the closure of
Eritrea's consulate in Oakland, Calif., in retaliation for curbs
placed on U.S. diplomats in Eritrea