ADDIS ABABA (AFP) — A top US diplomat on Monday stressed his country’s support for Somalia’s transitional government, whose control has been hanging by a thread in the face of a fierce Islamist insurgency.

“The US government has always been clear that it is important to support the TFG (transitional federal government),” US Deputy Secretary of State Jacob Lew said during a visit to neighbouring Ethiopia.

“We are engaged in activities consistent with what the countries of the region are involved in.”

Last week, a US official said the United States was giving Somalia’s embattled government urgent supplies of weapons and ammunition to fight off the insurgents.

Islamists launched a nationwide offensive against the administration of President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed on May 7.

The internationally-backed Sharif has been holed up in his presidential quarters, protected by African Union peacekeepers as his forces were unable to reassert their authority on the capital.

In 2006, Ethiopia, a key US ally in the region, invaded Somalia to remove an Islamist rebellion that had taken control of large swathes of the country.

When it pulled out earlier this year, having failed to stabilise the country, Ethiopia warned it could return at any time should hardliners threaten to take control.

Lew had earlier met with Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and said he raised US concerns over Ethiopia’s 2005 elections.

“We noted that the 2005 elections were good but expressed that we were troubled at the reduction in space for open public debate …,” he said.

The European Union and other observers said the 2005 elections fell short of international standards, and around 200 people died in violence that erupted after the opposition accused Meles’ party of rigging the ballot.

Several members of the Ethiopian opposition are now in exile or in prison, including Birtukan Mideksa, the head of an opposition coalition.

“We have expressed very strong views that the election next year should be free and fair,” Lew said. “I raised concerns about Birtukan and said the case should be resolved quickly and finally.”

Lew also said the United States was concerned over restrictions Ethiopia has placed on aid groups.

Ethiopia adopted a law early this year stating any local group drawing more than 10 percent of its funding from abroad would be classified as foreign and subjected to tight government control.

Source: AFP, June 29, 2009