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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Ehtiopia Acuses Norway of Destabilizing the Horn of Africa

OSLO (Reuters) - Ethiopia's foreign minister has accused Norway of financing soldiers in neighbouring Eritrea and terror groups in Somalia and Sudan, turning up the heat in a diplomatic row, daily Aftenposten reported on Wednesday.

Norway rejected the accusations. Oslo says it has tried to promote peace in the Horn of Africa, where relations between Eritrea and Ethiopia have sunk to their lowest levels since a 1998-2000 war that killed an estimated 70,000 people.

"Soldiers in Eritrea are fully financed by Norway," the paper quoted Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin as saying in an interview in the Ethiopian capital. "By supporting those who destroy the peace process in our neighbour land, Norway is undermining the Ethiopian government's work to achieve peace ... Also in Somalia and Sudan, Norway supports terror groups."

Addis Abba last month accused Norway of undermining security and spreading instability in the Horn of Africa and ordered six out of nine Norwegian diplomats to leave Ethiopia by September 15.

Norway has been involved in peace-brokering efforts in both Sudan and Somalia. The country shares the chair of the international contact group for Somalia with the United States.

Norway contributes development aid to all three impoverished African countries, but Oslo has said its direct aid to Ethiopia would be cut by about a third, or by around $5.3 million, as its embassy will not have the manpower to manage the full amount.

"Norway has supported insurgents and sponsored their weapons," Mesfin said, according to Aftenposten. "In this way, Norway undermines the countries' own government forces and
destabilises the whole region."

Norway has said Ethiopia was upset by its efforts to arrange a meeting this month of the Ethiopia-Eritrea border commission.

Addis Ababa and Asmara have been in a bitter dispute over their 1,000 km (620 mile) frontier since Ethiopia rejected a 2002 ruling by the independent border commission giving Eritrea the key town of Badme.

Norwegian Deputy Foreign Minister Raymond Johansen rejected Mesfin's accusations in comments to the newspaper.

"Nothing that he says is true," Johansen said, according to Aftenposten. Johansen was unavailable for comment, but a spokesman confirmed he had been accurately quoted in the paper.

"Norway still hopes that there can be a meeting at the political level with Ethiopia in connection with the U.N. General Assembly in New York later this month," he told Aftenposten. "We do not want to contribute to escalating this."

The Rest @ Reuters Africa

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