Eritrea sanctions get mixed reactions

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The Eritrean Diaspora has expressed its anger over a recently imposed United Nations sanctions that seek to penalize the eastern African country for supporting Somali insurgents. The sanctions, imposed in December, came after intensive lobbying by Eritrea’s neighboring countries and regional blocs including the African Union.

Although coordinated conventions were held in Australia, Switzerland and the United Sates, Government critics accuse Eritrean officials of compelling its people to take part in the protests. According to Eritrean rights worker Selam Kidane, “Many people have been told they would not be considered Eritrean if they did not take part. This is the government of Eritrea orchestrating things to ensure that it still has popular support,” Kidane is quoted.

The ruling places an arms ban on Eritrea, and also imposes travel prohibition and asset freezes on Eritrean businesses and senior government officials. Somali UN-backed government, which is under pressure from insurgents, welcomed the sanctions. But Eritrea’s UK ambassador Tesfamichael Gerahtu has insisted that the sanctions were illegal and would only worsen the problems in the Horn of Africa.

Eritrea has often been accused of interfering in the affairs of its neighbors, disturbing the balance of power in the volatile region. Between 1998 and 2000, Eritrea and Ethiopia fought a full-scale war over their border. A conflict that led to some 80,000 deaths.

Despite the accusations by the African Union and the United Nations, the Eritrean government denies giving any form of support to Somali rebels. However, the US said that despite seeking talks with Eritrea for months the country had failed to act on its promises.

Whilst Eritreans based in the United Kingdom told reporters that the sanctions were illegal and an affront to their nation, those in Australia gathered on the streets capital Canberra to demand an end to the sanctions. An Eritrean in Geneva, Switzerland told BBC reporters that the sanctions were also affecting regular Eritreans. “They say they are targeting our leadership. We have put our effort, our time, our blood to bring this government and president our support. So if they target him, they are targeting our people,” the Eritrean was quoted as saying.

Eritrea becomes the first new country to be subjected to UN sanctions since they were imposed on Iran in 2006. The UN has frequently expressed concern about the flow of arms into Somalia, where hard-line Hizbul-Islam and al-Shabab Islamists are battling with government forces for control of the capital Mogadishu.

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