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Wednesday, 10 October, 2001, 10:14 GMT 11:14 UK
European envoys pull out of Asmara
Isaias Afewerki
Eritrea's request for aid may be jeopardised by row
Ambassadors of the European Union states have started leaving Eritrea after being recalled for consultations.

The move is a rebuke to the government in Asmara followings criticism of Eritrea from Brussels over the arrest of several dissident politicians and journalists.

Other diplomatic staff will remain and the missions will stay open.

Earlier this month, Italy and Eritrea expelled each others' ambassadors.

Italy was the former colonial power in Eritrea and ambassador Antonio Bandini represented the EU diplomatic corps in Asmara.

He had delivered a letter to the Eritrean Government in which the EU protested at a recent crackdown on dissidents, students and journalists.

Democratic reforms

The Eritrean Government had tried to play down the expulsion saying that the incident was unrelated to the EU or the Italian Government but was a personal matter, accusing Mr Bandini of meddling in domestic affairs.

Eritrean soldiers
Since the border war with Eritrea there has been political unrest

Diplomatic sources expect all the ambassadors to have left Eritrea by the weekend.

Eleven former ministers were arrested after criticising President Isaias Afewerki and calling for democratic reforms.

The government has said they were engaged in treasonous activities.

Journalists arrested

Eritrea's privately run newspapers have also been shut down and at least eight journalists arrested.

The Eritrean government is yet to make an official response to the news of the recall.

The BBC's Alex Last in Asmara says that future relations will be indicated by the length of time the ambassadors stay in Europe.

The EU's Africa working group meets later this month, where the question of relations with Eritrea will be discussed, not least the vital aid which the EU contributes to development projects in Eritrea.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Alex Last
"A recall for consultations is understood to be a clear rebuke to the country in question"
See also:

03 Oct 01 | Africa
Eritrean dissident set for return
08 Oct 01 | Africa
Eritrea denies preparing for war
02 Oct 01 | Africa
Italy expels Eritrea's ambassador
02 Oct 01 | Africa
Eritrea plays down diplomatic row
01 Oct 01 | Africa
Eritrea expels Italian ambassador
21 Sep 01 | Africa
Concern over Eritrea detainees
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