News of Eritrea

Sanctions and glimmers of gold

Eritrea has been under scrutiny for its support of terrorism. But occasionally there is good news

Last week, Eritrean President Isaias Afwarki flew to Egypt for a visit with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Isaias must have been relieved to find a place where he received a warm welcome. Eritrea and Isaias have not been on the world’s Diplomatic A List recently. In December the United Nations Security Council called on nations to impose sanctions on Eritrea citing its border dispute with Djibouti and its providing arms and training to the al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabab militant group in Somalia. The sanctions have begun to sting as country after country made life difficult for Eritrea.  The Canadian Cabinet, for example,  has approved sanctions against Eritrea in May noting its support for Al-Shabab. Al-Shabab has been recruiting Canadian youths to join their forces. The sanctions include a ban on weapons sales, and Canadian banks have been ordered to freeze any assets belonging to Eritrean political leaders and military officials. “Canada is concerned by Eritrea’s support of armed opposition groups in Somalia,” said Dana Cryderman, a Department of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman.  She said the sanctions were targeted at senior government and military officials. “They are intended to minimize adverse impacts on the general population.”

Similar sanctions have been imposed by the European Union and the United States.  Eritrea is becoming more and more isolated. Not only has it alienated nearly all its neighbors, but its support for rebels, including Al-Shabab,  in Somalia has made Europeans and Americans extremely wary of Eritrea.

The sanctions come  on top of report after report from human rights groups citing Eritrea as one of the worse violators of political rights. For example, Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said this month that  Eritrea permits no independent media and the state-run newspapers and television network do not allow stories that challenge the nation’s leadership or its policies. The government has described a free press as “incompatible” with Eritrean culture and last year President Isaias said no Eritrean should want or need to attack their own country. “Around 30 journalists are currently held somewhere in its 314 prison camps and detention centres. Four of them have died as a result of the extremely cruel conditions in these prisons. Others have just disappeared,” RSF said in a statement. “Ruled with an iron hand by a small ultra-nationalist clique centered on Afeworki, this Red Sea country has been transformed in just a few years into a vast open prison.  Africa’s biggest prison for the media,” it said. RSF ranks Eritrea as the worst abuser of press freedom in the world, placing it below North Korea three years in a row.

Some glittering good news

Most of the news from Eritrea tends to have a sour tone to it. Part of the problem is that not many reporters travel to Eritrea and so most of the news comes from opposition groups in the diaspora, reports from human rights groups and statements by Western governments. But there are a few glimmers of good news.  Like the seemingly successful efforts by Eritrea to ramp up gold production.  Ron Gonella (Adi Quala, Eritrea 66-68) forwarded us a note from one of his former students, Kahsai Woldai, now living in Germany, enclosing a press release from Nevsun Resources, a Canadian mining firm, saying that mining operations in Eritrea are close to going on line. The mines will provide a stream of copper, zinc, silver and gold that will help generate welcome foreign currency income for Eritrea. (Just how these exports will avoid sanctions being imposed by the U.N.. the E.U., and the U.S. is not clear. China may be buying.)

It’s not been an easy road for Nevsun to get the mine going. At one point Eritrea suspended their contract and a new agreement had to be drawn up. But according to latest reports from the company, they are “now more than halfway through building Eritrea’s first mine, on schedule to commission the gold-silver-copper-zinc operation before the end of the year. The company began pre-strip mining in March at Bisha, about 250 km west of Asmara. The pre-strip is expected to take six months while a hill adjacent to the deposit is partially removed to make room for the open pit. Nevsun expects to start stockpiling ore early in the third quarter.” The mine is made up of several layers which contain gold, silver and copper in varying — but very promising and profitable — concentrations. The initial projections are that the mine will produce for at least ten years. The company has other mining operations underway in the area and is one of the rare foreign companies with a contract to work on a profit-making project in Eritrea.

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