Eritrean President Denies He Leads Pariah State

Posted September 26th, 2011 at 2:05 pm (UTC-5)
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Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki says he rejects the view that his country is a pariah state, and says that such views show a bias against his country.

In an exclusive interview with VOA , Mr. Afewerki also dismissed accusations his country does not allow freedom of the press, and blamed Ethiopia for Eritrea's withdrawal from an East African bloc of nations.

Eritrea has been strongly criticized by rights groups who say the government imprisons its critics and has crushed the independent media. The U.N. accuses it of supporting Islamist insurgents in Somalia, and has slapped sanctions on Eritrean political and military leaders.

But in the interview, conducted Sunday in New York, President Afewerki insisted Eritreans enjoy press freedom and have full access to information.

He blamed Ethiopia for his country's decision in 2007 to withdraw from the East African bloc, the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development, or IGAD. He said Ethiopia's late-2006 invasion of Somalia violated the bloc's basic tenets.

Ethiopia launched the invasion after Islamist forces captured the Somali capital, Mogadishu.

Ethiopia and Eritrea have longstanding hostility dating back to Eritrea's independence war. The two countries fought a border conflict from 1998 to 2000 that killed at least 70,000 people.

In the interview, the president also restated Asmara's claim that it does not face food shortages or need humanitarian aid.

The Horn of Africa is enduring its worst drought in more than six decades, and the U.N. has declared a famine in parts of southern Somalia.

Mr. Afewerki said Eritrea is willing to provide a “modest amount of food” to international aid agencies to help feed hungry Somalis.