Group urges engagement with authoritarian Eritrea

By MALKHADIR M. MUHUMED, Associated Press Writer Malkhadir M. Muhumed, Associated Press Writer Wed Sep 22, 5:57 am ET

NAIROBI, Kenya – The international community must engage more with the authoritarian government of Eritrea to prevent the tiny Red Sea nation from becoming another failed state in the Horn of Africa, said a new report by the International Crisis Group.

The effects of Eritrea’s 1998-2000 war with Ethiopia, an economy in freefall and rising poverty are hemorrhaging the legitimacy of the authoritarian political system in the country, said the report, which was released late Tuesday.

“Instead of pushing the regime into a corner, the international community should engage with Eritrea on the basis of a greater understanding about the country’s past and current grievances,” said the report, “Eritrea: The Siege State.”

In late 2009, the U.N. Security Council imposed an arms embargo and other tough sanctions against Eritrea for supplying weapons to Islamic insurgents opposed to the Somali government and refusing to resolve a border dispute with neighboring Djibouti, a key U.S. ally in the Horn of Africa.

A decade ago, Eritrea might reasonably have been described as challenged but stable. Today it is under severe stress, if not yet in full-blown crisis, said the report.

Eritrea “is weakening steadily. Its economy is in freefall, poverty is rife, and the authoritarian political system is hemorrhaging its legitimacy,” it said.

Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after a 30-year guerrilla war. It has been feuding over its border with Ethiopia ever since. Eritrea has also disputed its border with the tiny port nation of Djibouti.

“It is inadequate and unhelpful simply to portray Eritrea as the regional spoiler,” said Ernst Jan Hogendoorn, the group’s acting Africa Program Director.

International isolation has led President Isaias Afwerki and his team of ex-fighters to strengthen their grip on power and suppress social freedoms in favor of creating an obedient national unity, said the report.

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