Home | News    Tuesday 28 June 2005

Eritrea denies it backs eastern Sudan rebels

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By Ed Harris

ASMARA, June 28 (Reuters) - Eritrea denied on Tuesday that it gives military support to insurgents in the east of neighbouring Sudan, dismissing Sudanese claims of interference.

Khartoum filed a complaint on Monday with the United Nations Security Council, accusing Eritrea of meddling with its affairs in eastern Sudan.

"They (the accusations) are reckless, and many of them are made as part of a public relations exercise," Eritrea’s Minister of Information Ali Abdu told Reuters, while acknowledging political and moral support for the rebels.

"They have offices here, of course, as they do in Frankfurt and Cairo," he said. "We never support them militarily."

Abdu said his country had encouraged Sudan and the rebels to peacefully resolve their differences.

Sudan has long blamed Eritrea for backing the Eastern Front rebels, who — like insurgents in its western Darfur region, with whom they have friendly ties — are fighting for a bigger share of power and wealth in Africa’s largest country.

"(The Eritreans) continue to support the rebels from the eastern part of the country," said an official at the Sudanese Embassy in the Eritrean capital Asmara.

"They provide them with logistics, artillery support, ground reconnaissance, and (the rebels) continue to attack," said the official, who asked not to be named.

Fighting broke out last week between rebels and Sudanese soldiers close to Tokar in northeast Sudan.

The Eastern Front said later that Sudan had retaliated by bombing the area with warplanes, although there was no independent confirmation. Sudan denied bombarding the area but said it was conducting "search operations" there.

Analysts fear the east could be the next major flashpoint in Sudan, where the Darfur conflict has brought international condemnation. A 21-year-old war in the south of the country only ended a few months ago.

Sudan and the eastern rebels clashed with varying degrees of intensity from the mid-1990s until October 2002, when rebels captured Hamesh Koreb in the northwest corner of what is now a small, rebel-held area of eastern Sudan.

Sudan accused Eritrea of military involvement then, closing their common border, but both the Libyan and U.S. governments reported they had found no Eritrean troops on Sudanese soil.

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