By Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Eritrea has asked the U.N. Security Council to lift sanctions against it after a recent U.N. experts' report showed that the tiny east African state had cut its support for the al Qaeda-allied al Shabaab militant group in Somalia.
But in a letter released on Monday, Eritrea also slammed the report - which probes violations of arms embargoes on Eritrea and Somalia - for "falsely accusing the government of Eritrea for violations that are not substantiated with solid evidence."
The Security Council imposed an embargo on Eritrea in 2009 over concerns its government was funding and arming al Shabaab - charges Asmara denied. The U.N. experts' report released in July said that support has evaporated.
Eritrea responded in the letter to the 15-member council, dated September 27, saying sanctions should be removed as "the initial and principal accusation concerning Eritrean support to al Shabaab has now proven to be non-existent."
"The admission is acknowledged with obvious resentment and uncalled-for caveats, omissions and 'rationalizations," he said. "The (U.N.) 'monitoring group' does not have a case against Eritrea."
"The events over the past year have clearly shown that it is in fact Ethiopia that is actively engaged in destabilizing Eritrea," Eritrea said, rejecting claims by the report that it remained a destabilizing influence in the region.
The Red Sea state has previously rejected these allegations and has called for the replacement of the panel's members over what it calls their bias in favor of its arch-foe Ethiopia.
Eritrea, which declared independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after a long war, is routinely accused by Addis Ababa of supporting Ethiopian separatists. Eritrea says the accusations are false and aim to tarnish its reputation.
Ethiopia and Eritrea had another war from 1998 to 2000. The two countries' border disputes have yet to be resolved.
Asmara has blamed Ethiopia for the sanctions drive against it and the rivals have frequently clashed as they seek to influence events in Somalia, where Ethiopian troops are among African forces fighting al Shabaab.
"The (U.N.) group's report is an attempt to not only to create a wedge among friendly nations but also to unjustly penalize Eritrea by falsely linking it with several armed groups," Eritrea wrote.
Al Shabaab has controlled much of southern Somalia since 2007, imposing a strict version of Islamic law in areas under its control. But over the last year it has been forced out of the Somali capital Mogadishu and other parts of the south by the coordinated military operations of U.N.-backed African troops.
Last year, the monitoring group alleged Eritrea was behind a failed plot to bomb an African Union summit in Ethiopia, had bankrolled known members of al Shabaab in Kenya and had been involved in the smuggling of weapons through Sudan and Egypt.
As a result, the council prolonged the arms embargo and assets freeze on Eritrea, in addition to a travel ban on some officials, amid an escalation in operations against al Shabaab by African Union, Kenyan and Ethiopian troops and their Somali allies.
Matthew Bryden, the monitoring group's coordinator, told Reuters in July that Eritrea was lobbying its allies at the Security Council to push for a removal of the arms embargo, but he said other Council members were reluctant to do this.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Jackie Frank)
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