The US top diplomat for Africa on Thursday accused Eritrea of attacking neighboring Ethiopia through proxies in Somalia, echoing a statement the Ethiopian prime minister made to his parliament.
Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer, however, said that both Ethiopia and Eritrea should show restraint to avoid turning Somalia's conflict into a regional one.
In Addis Ababa, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi told parliament on Thursday that Somalia's Islamists have been amassing near the border and if they continued and threatened national security, Ethiopia would have the right to defend itself.
"Jihadists" from Indonesia, Pakistan and several Arab and African countries are working alongside the Islamic courts that control much of southern Somalia, Meles told lawmakers.
He portrayed neighboring Somalia as a proxy battleground with his old rival Eritrea, accusing Ethiopia's northern neighbor of allying with both another faction in Somalia and with rebel groups inside Ethiopia.
"Eritrea is quite clearly attacking Ethiopia on another front. We have pretty clear evidence that it is a fact they are shipping arms into Somalia," Frazer said. "Eritrea has always said it is against extremist governments so it is going against its natural interest to be shipping arms to the [Islamic] courts."
Frazer was speaking at the end of a meeting of the US-led International Somalia Contact Group, which was held to encourage Somalia's transitional government and the Islamic movement to remain committed to Arab League-mediated peace talks set for Oct. 30 in Sudan.
"The role of Eritrea in arming the [Islamic courts] and Ethiopia with the threats of intervention are unfortunate because it brings the conflict in Somalia to a regional dimension," Frazer said. "We have called on both countries to show restraint and act responsibly."
In his speech to the Ethiopian parliament, Meles said that the build-up of Islamic militias near the border does not mean Ethiopia will declare war.
"There is danger looming. The jihadists are amassing their forces near our borders. If this activity continues, and is found to threaten our national security, then our defense forces will have the right and obligation to defend [the country]," Meles said. "However, that does not mean that we will declare war."
Earlier on Thursday, Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf told the diplomats in Nairobi that the Sudan talks were in jeopardy because his government had lost confidence in the Arab League's mediation.
Yusuf also said in a statement that the Islamists, who control much of southern Somalia, have trained assassins to kill 16 high-ranking officials, including Yusuf and the prime minister.
"That is an irresponsible statement from someone in that position," said Ibrahim Hassan Adow, the Islamic group's foreign affairs chief, who was also in Nairobi.