By Aaron Maasho
ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – The East African bloc IGAD welcomed Eritrea’s decision to return to the body four years after it suspended its membership, and a month after IGAD members called for sanctions on the Red Sea state.
Eritrea rejoined the bloc in July after walking out in protest at arch-foe Ethiopia sending troops into Somalia in late 2006. IGAD has since asked the U.N. to impose punitive measures against Eritrea for its alleged support of Islamist militants in Somalia.
“On behalf of the staff of the IGAD secretariat and on my own behalf, I wish to express my happiness with the bold decision by Eritrea to rejoin the IGAD family,” said executive secretary Mahboub Maalim in a letter to Osman Saleh, Eritrea’s foreign minister.
“I am confident that the IGAD member states, the IGAD development partners and all IGAD stakeholders will be delighted to see Eritrea back in the IGAD family fold,” he added.
Analysts say the Asmara government’s withdrawal from the Inter-Governmental Authority for Development (IGAD) was the first sign of deteriorating relations between Eritrea and regional countries over Somalia, where the Al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab group is battling to overthrow a U.N.-backed government.
In July, the body called for sanctions on Eritrea’s fledgling mining sector and on remittances it receives from Eritreans living overseas, citing its alleged support of the insurgents.
Asmara denies the charges and accuses the United States and neighbouring Ethiopia of “irresponsible interference”. Addis Ababa entered Somalia in 2006 — with tacit U.S. support — and ousted an Islamist group which had taken over the capital and parts of the country.
IGAD is made up of Kenya, Uganda, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia and now Eritrea.
Eritrea was part of Ethiopia until 1993, following a brutal 30-year war for independence.
Diplomats say past IGAD meetings have been a forum for the festering feud between the two countries, who are still bitter over their 1998-2000 border conflict and locked in what many see as a proxy war in Somalia.