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Monday, 21 October, 2002, 16:28 GMT 17:28 UK
CIA accused of Eritrea 'coup plot'
President Isaias Afewerki of Eritrea
The US has criticised Afewerki's government

The Eritrean Government has reacted furiously to criticism from the US State Department.

The US State Department called on the Eritrean Government to release two local employees of the US embassy in Eritrea who have been in detention since last year; Ali Alamin and Kiflom Gebremichael.

It also urged the Eritrean Government to grant them an open and fair trail and "respect fundamental human rights."

The Eritrean Foreign Ministry released a statement which said it totally rejected the state department's position, and called on it to refrain from unwarranted intervention.

But the statement also contains some surprises, with the government accusing the previous administration of President Bill Clinton of employing the CIA to seek to unlawfully change the government in Asmara, during the war between Eritrea and Ethiopia.

'Conspiracy'

In essence, the Eritrean statement implies that the top 11 Eritrean government officials, including former leaders of the liberation movement, who publicly criticized the Eritrean president after the recent war with Ethiopia, were recruited by the CIA.

The government has previously accused the officials of defeatism and of conspiring to remove President Isaias Afewerki.

Ethiopian soldier
Ethiopia and Eritrea fought their border war for two-and-a-half years

They were arrested in September last year, though none of them have been charged and they remain imprisoned at an unknown location.

The US State Department criticised their detention without trial and said that the arrested officials had advocated greater democracy in Eritrea.

Media

The Eritrean statement goes on to accuse the US of fomenting divisions within the Eritrean Government and among the Eritrean people, and of funding the private media to distort the internal political situation.

The government said it took "necessary actions against hostile elements to safeguard the sovereignty and the national security of the country".

All Eritrean private newspapers have been closed since last September.

Eritrea is the only country in Africa without a local private press.

Amnesty International says that 18 journalists are currently detained without charge.

Anti-terrorist base?

The Eritrean statement highlights the inherent suspicion the administration has for the US, despite Eritrean attempts to improve relations with the Bush administration.

Most importantly Eritrea has been inviting the US to make use of its facilities for the war against terrorism - a great way to nullify any threat from Eritrea's regional opponents, Ethiopia, Sudan and, more recently, Yemen.

Diplomatic sources say that many in the Pentagon have been in favour of using Eritrean facilities, such as the heavily militarised Red Sea port of Assab, now unused, which is considered to be one of the most secure locations in the region.

But so far, sources say, this has been opposed by the State Department, not least because of the detention of the Eritrean employees of the American Embassy.

Instead, US forces are currently using neighbouring Djibouti.

The Eritrean Government's angry reaction to US criticism is unlikely to bring the establishment of a US base any closer.


Border decision

Reactions

Background:

IN PICTURES

TALKING POINT
See also:

10 Oct 01 | Africa
08 Oct 01 | Africa
03 Oct 01 | Africa
02 Oct 01 | Africa
21 Sep 01 | Africa
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