Category Archives: News of Eritrea

News of Eritrea

Written and complied by Barry Hillenbrand (Debre Marcos 63–65)

 Where’s President Isaias?

As any regular watcher of Eritrean state TV (and is there any other kind in Asmara?) knows, President Isaias Afwerki is a staple on the evening news. Omnipresent you might say: receiving guests, inspecting fisheries or farms, presiding over cabinet meetings. Always dapper and informal, clad in sandals and a hang-out shirt, Isaias is a TV performer of considerable charm well endowed with the common touch. He’d be the perfect guest on the “Today” show.  But suddenly in April he disappeared from the TV and from seemingly all other events. He was last reported seen receiving the credentials of the South African Ambassador on March 28th. Then nothing.

Eritrea being a small country, rumors —some wild, some plausible — soon began to circulate. Was he ill? Isaias is said to have liver problems, not helped, it is said, by his drinking. During 2011, he visited Qatar at least seven times, supposedly for medical attention. Was there a crisis between the military and civilian ranks of the government?  Stories of a stormy meeting between Isaias and his top military people began making the rounds, becoming more elaborate and unbelievable with every telling. Was he hiding in some bunker?

The rumors became so heated that when the BBC from London called the Minister of Information, Ali Abdu, he took the call and felt compelled to refute the rumors and declare that the President was in “robust health.”

Then exactly 30 days after he disappeared, Isaias reappeared on TV, all smiles.   Clad in his familiar short-sleeved shirt, blue pants and sandals, the President looked relaxed and said that, well, gosh, he had been out of the country for some time and then in the last week traveling in the remote parts of the country. You know, “the edges of Gash Barka [in Western Eritrea], to Afabet, Gulbub, Massawa, and had breakfast in Gahtelai.”  When he returned to Asmara, he told the TV audience, his wife Saba told him there was a lot of “news.”  Well, yes, like, where was the president?  He finally paid attention. “I don’t follow the internet and I don’t have a mobile phone,” he said, so how was he to know?  Besides why should the President be on TV every night, he told the TV interviewer who was respectfully dressed in a suit.

But no, he was not ill. Said Isaias: “I have no sickness, I am healthy, but because the rumors are repeated . . . but you can’t chase the wind [or] follow those who are mentally deranged [and spread news] . . . and people should wise up.  If you ask me, ‘are you sick?’ I would say, my illness is in the mental derangement of others.”

So for 30 minutes the president talked about everything, including castigating the news media and lecturing on the evils of advertising. A classic, brainy talk with the President designed to end all the rumors. By mid-May, the President seemed to be back to his usual routine meeting with regional councils, for example. At least that’s what the press releases say. He’s not been back on TV. Rumors persist.

A Jolly, Fun World Record

All along the Asha-Golgol-Himbirti road in Asmara is a bright painting named “Polution Free World.” A world record painting, and a painting celebrating a world free of pollution. The work of 827 students under the guidance of Habtom Mihretab — everybody got a piece of the action! — the painting now holds the record as the world’s longest painting. It measures out at 7.166 km, beating the previous records of a mere 6 km, held by the collaborative work of some Mexican students. The staff of the Guinness Book of Records, which knows a bit about the biggest and longest, sent a letter to Eritrea confirming the record. It took the students 55 days to do all the painting.  Now, say the teachers, the students have to work hard to maintain the painting – and make sure the record is not surpassed.

A less distinguished world record

The Committee to Protect Journalists this month released the list of the world’s top ten most censored countries. The new world record holder: Eritrea, which displaced North Korea, long the world’s leader in press censorship. Syria and Iran rank third and fourth. “In the name of stability or development these regimes suppress independent reporting, amplify propaganda and use technology to control rather than empower their own citizens,” says Joel Simon, the executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. “Journalists are seen as a threat and often pay high price for the reporting but because the internet and trade have made information global domestic censorship affects people every where.” The Committee says that at least 25 journalists are currently held in prison in Eritrea for violating press laws. Reporters Without Borders described Eritrea as “Africa’s biggest jail for the media.”

Profitable Gold Mines

What News Summary would be complete without a report on Eritrea’s gold mines? In brief, they are very profitable. Nevsun, the Canadian company that has the license to mine gold in Eritrea, reports that profits were up for the first quarter. Prices for gold have increased and the cost of production is down. Additionally the quality of the ore produced at its mines has been higher than expected. The company forecasts that gold production for 2012 will be 210,000 ounces [worth $333,900,000 at today’s price], higher than its original estimate of 190,000  ounces.

New airline route

Eritrean airlines announced a new route from Asmara to Cape Town South Africa. The flights on an Airbus 319, will leave Asmara four days a week. They will stop in Uganda on route.

News of Eritrea

Written and complied by Barry Hillenbrand (Debre Marcos 63-65)

How bad is the famine?

Eritrea officially says that it has enough food and that it is not suffering from drought or famine. It had a good harvest, say officials. Because Eritrea is closed to reporters and many aid organizations, first hand information is difficult to come by. Eritrea’s neighbors are suffering from famine, so the assumption is that some of those problems might be operative across the border.

But aid groups say there is some evidence that Eritrea has serious food problems. According to the BBC, there is an increasing trend of acute malnutrition in children under five in many areas. Satellite imagery from weather monitoring group the Famine Early Warning System shows below average rainfall from June to September, which is the main rainy season for Eritrea. This shortfall comes after years of severe drought in consecutive years. The human impact is to be found in northern Ethiopia. Emaciated Eritreans are crossing the heavily militarized border at the rate of 900 a month, according to journalists in the region.

Who’s jamming whom?

Jamming of radio broadcasts seems so, well, Cold War, 20th Century. But it is still a matter of considerable controversy on the Horn of Africa even in this age of internet and computers. Last March, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said that Ethiopia was testing jamming equipment and felt it had a right to block harmful broadcast, especially Voice of America’s Amharic service.

Now Eritrea, hardly a country that is a paragon of free broadcasting, claims that its enemy Ethiopia has been jamming its satellite broadcasts. In a statement loaded with ironies, Asmelash Abraha, Director General of Eritrean Television, said that Ethiopia “is continuing its hostile policy of blocking information disseminated from Eritrea . . . [by] engaging in jamming and interfering activities.”

He added that Eritrea has “both legal and organizational responsibility to ensure uninterrupted service for the satellite broadcast for which Eritrea has made heavy investment, and thus take legal action against the Addis Ababa regime which is conducting illegal jamming activities.” He added that “regimes that conduct such airwave banditry are those which lack courage and capacity to face the truth being disseminated.”

Come on home. All is forgiven

President Isaias Afewerki in Sudan

In an interview with Sudan state TV during a visit to Khartoum, Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki has said that he will guarantee the safety of tens of thousands of young people who have fled the country to avoid forced conscription in the military. Isaias said that any citizen willing to return home is welcomed. He assured that no returning Eritrean would be subjected to any harm.

Political repression and military conscription have pushed thousands of young Eritreans to flee their country. Eritrean national service is mandatory for all citizens both male and female aged between 18 and 48 years. Every month thousands of young Eritreans risk their lives attempting to sneak across the country’s heavily militarized border into neighboring Ethiopia and Sudan.

Currently Ethiopia houses over 60,000 Eritreans in four refugee camps. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) estimated in 2011 that there are over 100,000 Eritrean refugees in Sudan, with around 1,600 crossing the border every month.

In the past, the Eritrean President has dismissed concerns that his country is seeing a large number of youth fleeing the country, labeling them as “a bunch of traitors.” It’s unclear why Isaias had this change of heart.

In the same interview Isaias, who is the first and only head of state Eritrea has had since independence in 1993, rejected calls to conduct national elections. He said his country won’t hold elections just to please the West. Since independence from Ethiopia in 1993, Eritrea has not held an election. The Peoples Front for Democracy and Justice, which led the revolution, has since become the only legal political party.

Eritrean News

News of Eritrea

Complied by Barry Hillenbrand

Famine in Eritrea: a mirage or a disaster?

The government of Eritrea denies that Eritrea is suffering the effects of the drought and famine which is plaguing  Somalia and much of the rest of the Horn of Africa.  They claim the country had a good harvest and ample food supplies. Presidential adviser Yemane Ghebreab said: “There [are] no food shortages in Eritrea at the present time. Last year, we had a bumper harvest.”  It has declined any aid.

But has Eritrea been immune to the famine? It’s difficult to say since the country is largely closed to outside observers and the local press is run by the government under tight control. In its crisis map of the Horn of Africa region the UN has listed Eritrea as “stressed,” but officials admit they have almost no information on the situation on the ground. A BBC report this month suggest that conditions in Eritrea may be dire. Satellite imagery from weather monitoring group the Famine Early Warning System shows below average rainfall from June to September. This is the main rainy season for Eritrea and comes after years of severe drought in consecutive years. Evidence of the problems Eritrea has can be found in northern Ethiopia. Emaciated Eritreans are crossing the heavily militarized border at the rate of 900 a month, according to journalists in the region. They tell tales of crops that have failed and homes without food, reports the BBC.

WATER BOY Eritrean refugee in Shagarab camp.

The American ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, recently described Eritrea as a black hole in terms of independent information. The Eritrean people “most likely are suffering the very same food shortages that we’re seeing throughout the region (and) are being left to starve because there’s a clear-cut denial of access by the government of Eritrea to food and other humanitarian support for its people,” Ms Rice said. UN agencies have been refused access to Eritrea and most aid agencies have been expelled. 

Defecting Eritrean sailor face deportation

Over 30 members of the Eritrean naval forces have deserted to Yemen in August  according to claims by an exiled Eritrean opposition group called the Red Sea Afar Democratic Organization. The group claims that the sailors are in danger of being forcibly returned to Eritrea by Yemeni authorities.

“A total of 38 Eritrean Navy members in four groups have fled to Yemen during the past two weeks . . . with their navy boats and weapons across the Red Sea” said a spokesman for the group. He said that  since the start of July an increasing number of young Eritrean Afar refugees are attempting to cross the turbulent waters of Red Sea to Yemen. The opposition group expressed concern for the safety of the recently defected sailors and other Eritreans who remain in Yemeni detention centers.  The group appealed to United Nations High Commission for Refugees to put pressure on Yemeni Government to refrain  from deporting the Eritreans back to their home country where they face reprisals.

Government buys stake in gold mine

Nevsun Resources, the Canadian mining company which developed and owns the Bisha gold mine  said the Eritrean government had agreed to pay $253.5-million for its 30% stake in the operation. The state will settle the amount, which two independent international institutions helped determine, with after-tax cash flows from the mine.  The move proves that Nevsun has a winner on its hands and that the government wanted to increase its share in the lucrative mining business. Enamco, the Eritrean state-owned mining company, will likely settled the amount within two years, depending on metals prices.

WE'LL TAKE ANOTHER 30%, PLEASE Canada's Nevsun's goid and copper mining operations at Bisha

“The government of Eritrea has significantly contributed to the project, both financially and through the board of directors of Bisha Mining Share Company, as well as through the support of the Ministry of Energy & Mines, the Ministry of Finance and various other Ministries,” Nevsun CEO Cliff Davis said in a statement. “By collaborating with international companies, Eritrea is developing a mining industry that provides direct economic benefits, skill enhancement and supply chain expansion.” In addition to the 30%, Enamco has a 10% free carry stake in Bisha, giving it a total 40% ownership. Bisha produced 93,000 oz. of gold in the second quarter this year, generating an after-tax net profit of $60.6-million for Nevsun. And there’s lots more gold in Eritrean hills.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Ethiopian and Eritrean news summaries are complied with the invaluable assistance of Shlomo Bachrach’s East African Forum which collects news items from the horn of Africa. Shlomo sends out a daily selection of the top stories from the region. To see his work, to register for his service and to discover how to support this important work go to www.eastafricaforum.net 

News of Eritrea

Eritrean News Notes

Complied by Barry Hillenbrand

Smoke in Eritrea
A volcano in Eritrea erupted for three days in June, its ash cloud spreading out over Sudan and towards Saudi Arabia and forcing the cancellation of some regional flights. The Nabro volcano began belching plumes of ash at about midnight on June 12  after a string of earthquakes. Scientists initially wrongly identified the source of the eruption in the region close to the Ethiopian border as the nearby Dubbi volcano. Airlines cancelled flights to the area. Ethiopian Airlines officials told Reuters they had cancelled flights to the Sudanese capital Khartoum and neighboring Djibouti, as well as several domestic flights to Ethiopia’s north.

DISRUPTIVE SMOKE: Nabro as seen for NASA Satellite

“The ash’s direction and its intensity were very high at first, but the Modis (monitoring) satellite shows a weakening,” said Atalay Arefe, natural sciences professor at Addis Ababa University.  Satellite images on the France-based Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre’s (VAAC) website showed the cloud heading toward Saudi Arabia.

Nabro, which had not erupted since 1861,  burst into life after a string of earthquakes, the biggest of which measured 5.7. The initial eruption threw an ash cloud 8.4 miles high. Authorities in Ethiopia and Eritrea reported no casualties around the volcano. It was hard to verify these reports because of the difficulty accessing the arid region. U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton cut short her stay in Africa by a day because the ash cloud risked leaving her stranded.

Playing away, walking away
Thirteen members of an Eritrean soccer club taking part in a regional championship in Tanzania disappeared after the side was knocked out of the tournament. The Eritrean Red Sea Football Club players were due to leave Dar Es Salaam after their elimination from the regional club championship but a head count at their departure point revealed that half the squad was missing. “Thirteen out of 26 players of the Eritrean team have disappeared,” secretary general of the Tanzania Football Federation Angetile Osiah told Reuters. “We have reported the matter to relevant law enforcement authorities for investigation. Some team members colluded in the incident by trying to stamp the passports of the missing players at airport immigration checkpoints, but when a physical head count was conducted, it was discovered that 13 players were missing.” 

Illegal immigrants from Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia often use Tanzania as a transit point to South Africa and elsewhere. This is not the first time members of an Eritrean team have vanished after a tournament outside the country. In 2009, 12 members of the national squad disappeared in Kenya after competing in a regional tournament.

More Gold in those Hills
This year the Canadian company Nevsun Resources started gold production from its Bisha mine in Eritrea and is now producing 1,000 ounces a day. Because of low production costs, the company claims they are making more than a million dollars a day on the project. Now the Australian company Chalice Gold Mine has joined in the gold rush with its Zara project. Chalice Gold Mine’s chief executive, Tim Goyder, says he is sitting on a gold mine, literally, with a reserve of 840,000 ounces. Based on a gold price of $1400 an ounce, the project will generate a minimum of $400 million over its seven-year life. He has been granted a license from Asmara and has begun work on the mine. Keep reading the HERALD for more gold stories from Eritrea. 

News of Eritrea

Eritrean News Summary

compiled by Barry Hillenbrand

The Gold Rush (Continued)

We love the story about gold mining in Eritrea, as readers of the HERALD may have noticed. Mostly we love it because gold mining is a rare example of the government and private business actually releasing reliable information about Eritrea. So late last year we told you that the first gold was smelted and produced at Bisha, the mining operation run by Canada’s Nevsun Resources Ltd. Now comes news that Australia’s Chalice Gold Mines was granted licenses for two new exploration sites covering 830 square kilometres in Eritrea.  The story has all sorts of numbers — real numbers — in it. The Aussie project is said to hold 1 million ounces of gold.  See http://bit.ly/eiYuiv for the Reuters story. And be assured we will run more stories about gold.

Wikileaks on Eritrea — Part I

As someone whose career as a journalist has benefited from being on the receiving end of leaks, I usually have a fair amount of sympathy for leakers. But the recent massive leaks of State Department cables by Wikileaks seems problematic to me. When a leaker targets an abuse of government or an issue which the pubic should better understand, I’m all for publishing information from classified documents. But the Wikileaks release of thousands of documents was so undifferentiated and massive — and often reckless in its compromising innocent people — that it falls in a whole new category and raises serious questions. But that said (and the HERALD is not the place to debate the issue), the cables make interesting and often fascinating reading. The folks at American embassies do a professional and thorough job of reporting. And for those of us interested in Eritrea, the reports are a treasure trove since we get so little reporting out of Asmara. Several cables from Asmara make particularly interesting reading:

One purloined cable is a report of a the arrest and interrogation of an Eritrean who was clearly known to the Embassy officials who made the report. This Wikileak release edited out names and other key material which might have  identify sources. The arrested Eritrean told Embassy officials that he “was placed in a cell approximately 40 feet x 38 feet with about 600 other prisoners. He stated the conditions were so cramped, it was not possible to lie down and barely possible to sit. He was held there for one month before being interrogated. He was interrogated on two separate occasions by members of the Eritrean National Security Organization (ENSO). On both occasions the interrogator beat him.”

The Eritrean reported that “After the two interrogations, he was not questioned again, but returned to the crowded holding room. Prisoners were fed 2 pieces of bread three times a day and allowed to use the toilet twice a day. A bucket in the middle of the room served as a toilet between escorted bathroom breaks, but it constantly spilled and contaminated the room with urine and feces. Many prisoners could not talk due to the lack of water, their tongues stuck to the roofs of their mouths from thirst. He said prisoners believed ENSO had placed informers in the prison cell to gain additional information. Family members and friends were allowed to bring food to prisoners. One of his friends smuggled in a notebook and pen with a tray of food, and he chronicled his experience in two versions, one for the Embassy official and another for the Ambassador. He smuggled the diaries out also using the food trays.”

This Eritrean said that “the ENSO personnel regularly tortured prisoners. His cellmates were Eritreans who tried to flee the country, military deserters, common criminals, and Protestants (presumably of unregistered denominations). He stated they could hear the screams of people being tortured and he witnessed ENSO staff bringing back badly bruised and bleeding detainees to the holding room. On one occasion, he observed ENSO officials beating a man with a rubber hose on his bare feet. Another time, when he was allowed out to use the bathroom, he passed a shipping container and saw a man sitting with his arms tied and raised behind his back. His feet were tied together and a wooden pole was placed beneath his knees.”

As if this were not disturbing enough, the Eritrean told the Embassy that “for a few days, approximately 35 boys, aged 8–13, were confined with him. Asked why they were arrested, the boys said they had crossed into Ethiopia, but Ethiopian soldiers caught them, and, after feeding them and giving them new clothes, sent them back to Eritrea, telling them they were too young to cross by themselves. Upon returning to Eritrea, the boys were arrested and taken to [prison name redacted] and later to another prison. He said ENSO personnel also beat the boys and told the adult prisoners not to talk to the boys or to each other about why they were in prison or about their beatings.”

This Eritrean was released after five months with no explanation for his release or detention. Said the Embassy cable: [he] “was angry and nearly broke into tears a of number of times [when talking to the Embassy official.] He said although the physical abuse and deprivations took a toll on his body, it was the psychological abuse of being packed in with so many other people, not knowing when the next beatings would come, and believing he could be killed, that was the most damaging.”

Wikileaks on Eritrea–Part II

President Isaias: Casual autocrat

A 2008 cable from then U.S.Ambassador Ronald McMullen to Washington offers some fascinating tidbits of information, gossip, and reporting about the personality of Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki.  The cable was not  a full-blown bio of Isaias, but merely a collection of facts, some worthy of an “Entertainment Tonight” segment, others more mundane. The best of them:

Why Isaias hates Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles
“Isaias and Meles, brothers in arms during the 1980s, are now blood enemies. Why? In 1996, while returning from a vacation in Kenya, Isaias, his family, and his inner entourage stopped in Addis, where Meles offered to fly them back to Asmara in one of his aircraft. Isaias accepted the offer; en route the aircraft caught fire, but managed to turn back and land safely in Addis. According to someone who was on the aircraft, an infuriated Isaias accused Meles to his face of trying to kill him and his family. Isaias has not trusted Meles since.”

Holy than Mao
“Isaias has berated the Chinese ambassador in Asmara for China’s embrace of market capitalism. Isaias was sent to China by the Eritrean Liberation Front for political commissar training in the 1960s, where, according to the Chinese ambassador, ‘he learned all the wrong things.’ Isaias was turned off by the cult of personality surrounding Mao, but apparently internalized Maoist ideology.”

Hot temper
“At a January 2008 dinner he hosted for [an American Congressional delegation] and embassy officials, Isaias became involved in a heated discussion with his Amcit [American citizen] legal advisor about some tomato seedlings the legal advisor provided to Isaias’ wife. Isaias complained that despite tender care by his wife, the plants produced only tiny tomatoes. When the legal advisor explained that they were cherry tomatoes and were supposed to be small, Isaias lost his temper and stormed out of the venue, much to the surprise of everyone, including his security detail.”

Thin skinned
“Isaias asked to be named the patron of the World Bank-funded Cultural Assets Rehabilitation Project (CARP). When individuals involved with CARP published the book ‘Asmara: Africa’s Secret Modernist City,’ it failed to include a note of thanks to CARP’s patron. Isaias was miffed and shut down CARP.”

The casual autocrat
“In November 2008 U.S. Embassy officials] visited Tselot, [Isaias’ home village] and saw no indication that the village has received any special favor from Isaias. Like most Eritrean villages, it has electricity but no running water or sewer system. Gaunt cattle and untended donkeys roam the village. Afwerki, [Isaias’ father] is said to be buried in the village cemetery, but officials could not locate his grave. Isaias’ immediate family is rarely featured in the state-run media and keeps a low profile. Although his portrait adorns many shops in Asmara, there is no cult of personality in Eritrea. Isaias often appears in the media clad casually in slacks, jacket, open-necked shirt, and sandals or loafers. He rarely travels in a motorcade.”

But he is careful about security
“Isaias has an aversion to talking on the telephone and frequently sleeps in different locations to foil a coup or assassination attempt. During the winter months he spends most of his time in Massawa rather than in Asmara. When dining in restaurants, Isaias will often switch plates with a subordinate, apparently to avoid being poisoned, according to the Qatari ambassador.”

News of Eritrea

Eritrean News Summary

complied by Barry Hillenbrand

Gloomy report on religious freedom

The U.S. State Department’s annual report on religious freedom in Eritrea is once again extremely pessimistic. It notes that while the Eritrea’s 1997 Constitution guarantees religious freedom, the constitution’s provisions have yet to be implemented. Four religions — Eritrean Orthodox Church, the Evangelical (Lutheran) Church of Eritrea, Islam, and the Roman Catholic Church — have registerd with the government and have rights to operate.  Other religions have been denied licenses. Members of non-recognized religions suffer greatly. Says the report, “The government’s record on religious freedom remained poor. The government continued to harass and detain thousands of members of unregistered religious groups and retained substantial control over the four registered religious groups.” The report, available at: http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2010/148686.htm contains interesting–albeit discouraging–information about Eritrea and religious life within the country.

Just in time for Christmas

Smelting and production facilities at Bisha

There's lots of gold in these them hills

Nevsun Resources, a Canadian mining company, announced that its massive gold mine operation in Eritrea is nearly complete and will pour its first ore by the end of the year. After years of struggle and delays, the power plant and other systems are at last complete, says the company. The Bisha operation is expected to produce nearly 450,000 ounces of gold in the first year of operation, with a target of more than 1 million ounces after that. The last time we looked, gold was selling at $1387 per ounce. Bisha’s production cost for the gold, according to Nevsun, is $250 per ounce. The mine will also produce copper and Zinc. For more pictures and news see: http://www.nevsun.com/

China and Eritrea

Anyone who has traveled in Africa in the last few years can not have missed seeing the tremendous inroads China has made. They are building roads and rail lines. They are investing in factories. They are buying all the natural resources they can manage. They are sending teachers and doctors. They are acting like the Americans did in the 1960s, except, perhaps, on a larger more rapacious scale. China has even managed to gain a foothold for business in Eritrea. A recent article in the People’s Daily (See http://bit.ly/etdSny ) outlines the breadth of their operations there. The story quotes President Isaias Afewerki: “Eritrea can be a gateway for investment in Africa if we can take advantage of our excellent strategic location. Our partnership with China, even though it is in its early stages, will dramatically change the reality in this country and give us a greater global interaction.” China is particularly interested in the Free Trade Zones that Eritrea is starting up in Massawa and Assab. “Our priority has shifted to China,” says Negash Afworki, general manager of the Red Sea Trading Corporation, a government owned company managing the free trade zone. China is also working to secure Eritrean cotton and a foothold in telecommunications.

Author with the Eritrean Tattoo

Larsson: professor of Grenade 101

Stieg Larsson, the Swedish author who has recently gained fame for his Lisbeth Salander trilogy which includes “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” turns out to have curious relation with Eritrea. Larsson, who died at the age of 50 before his books gained success, was a life-long leftist with strong Trotskyite tendencies. After his two years of required military service in Sweden, Larsson spent a year in Eritrea training women fighters in Marxist guerrilla operations. According to a British publication, he specialized in the use of grenade launchers, probably the famed B-40 rockets. For a summary of Larsson’s leftist background, including too few sentences about his work in Eritrea, see: http://bit.ly/elP4Ny

News of Eritrea

Eritrean News Summary

Complied by Barry Hillenbrand

Divisions within Eritrean Diaspora

Demonstration in Washington D.C.

Battles within the Eritrean community here in the U.S. and in Europe are deepening. Some  Eritreans complain that they are under pressure by agents of the Eritrean government to send money back to Eritrea to support the regime in Asmara. They also claim that these agents of the government generate support for demonstrations against United Nations sanctions against Asmara.

Those in the Diaspora who are opposed to the government of President Isaias Afwerki have recently held counter demonstations in the  U.S. and Europe. [For more see: http://www.afrol.com/articles/36196]

Forced Military Service

One of the continuing  sources of discontent in Eritrea is that students are forced into military service directly from secondary school. For many the military service is never ending. This service is frequently mentioned as the reason many young men flee Eritrea. [For a good NYTimes story on those who flee see: http://nyti.ms/c24Nxp]  In May the United Nations Human Right Commission issued a report examining the conditions at the Sawa Military Camp where 12th grade students are frequently sent. It’s scary reading. [For the full report see: http://bit.ly/cOqvuP]

Eritrea-Djibouti deal

Eritrea has lots of problems with  its neighbors. Ethiopia and Eritrea are facing off over their long-term border dispute. But Eritrea also has had problems with Djibouti which  broke out into some pitched battles in 2008. In a surprise move, however, Eritrea announced that it had agreed to Qatar’s mediation efforts to resolve their festering border dispute with Djibouti. [For more details see: http://bit.ly/d7mouS]

Opps. Dead Last on that list. Again.

Each year Reporters without Borders  publishes its Freedom of the Press list that ranks the world’s press, from best to worst, in this category. On the recently published list Finland is number one. Although China works harder and spends more money on controlling the media — including the Internet — than anyone, the People’s Republic is not the world’s worst offender when it comes to media oppression. That honor — or dishonor — goes to Eritrea which comes in as 178. North Korea is runner up for worst at 177. China is 171.  Ethiopia places slightly better than Eritrea at 139, nestled between Turkey and Russia.

Says the Reporters without Borders report:

Eritrea (178th) is at the very bottom of the world ranking for the fourth year running. At least 30 journalists and four media contributors are held incommunicado in the most appalling conditions, without right to a trial and without any information emerging about their situation. Journalists employed by the state media — the only kind of media tolerated — have to choose between obeying the information ministry’s orders or trying to flee the country. The foreign media are not welcome. “

[For more see: http://bit.ly/bE35Z1)

Isaias Afwerki interview

President Isaias and Swedish journalist

President Isaias of Eritrea is not your typical autocrat. While he and his party have very tight control over the country, he does not lock himself up in the Presidential Palace with no contract with the outside world in the style of, say, North Korean leaders. No, Isaias, oddly enough, sits down for press interviews with visiting — but carefully selected — foreign journalists. Recently a Swedish journalist, Donald Bostrom, visited Asmara and talked with Isaias, and then conducted a call-in radio-style interview with questions from what seem to be common folks in Sweden. While the machine translation by Google is a bit dicey, the answers are rather interesting because, despite everything, Isaias is a very interesting and intelligent man.  [You can read the interview at: http://bit.ly/bSjKwl]