Eritrea blames Washington for Somalia war

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ASMARA, Jan 1 (Reuters) Eritrea accused the United States today of being behind the war in Somalia, but said Washington could never thwart the will of the Somali people.

Diplomats across east Africa agree that Washington almost certainly gave tacit approval for Ethiopia to provide the forces which allowed Somalia's weak interim government to roll into the capital Mogadishu and send the hardline Islamists packing.

Washington has accused Eritrea of providing arms and men to the Islamists. The government in Asmara denies that.

''There is a misrepresentation in the media. This war is between the Americans and the Somali people,'' Eritrean Information Minister Ali Abdu told Reuters by telephone.

''External forces are trying to impose their liking on the Somali people ... The issue is the geopolitical interest of the superpowers versus the choice of the Somalis,'' he said.

''They cannot crush the choice of the Somali people, which is to live in peace and harmony as a sovereign nation.'' The Islamists brought a semblance of normality to a country in chaos since 1991 when they seized Mogadishu and much of southern Somalia six months ago and imposed strict sharia law.

But they fled the capital on Thursday and melted away from their last bastion around the southern port town of Kismayu today following nearly two weeks of ground and air offensives by government troops backed by Ethiopian tanks, troops and jets.

Eritrea's arch-foe Ethiopia says hundreds of Eritreans were killed on the battlefield. Asmara accuses it of faking Eritrean identity cards in a ''futile ploy'' to provide evidence.

But the rapid collapse of the Islamists has largely laid to rest fears that fighting in Somalia could expand into a wider regional war between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

The two nations fought a 1998-2000 border war that killed 70,000 people and tensions between them remain high.


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