UPDATE: Eritrea under siege following coup attempt

(update) A group of dissident Eritrean soldiers have laid siege to the information ministry and forced the state media to announce a call for the release of political prisoners, according to a senior Eritrean intelligence official.

The renegade soldiers forced the director of state television to make an announcement, the intelligence official said.

“The soldiers have forced him to speak on state TV, to say the Eritrean government should release all political prisoners,” the source said on condition of anonymity.

Dozens of soldiers with two tanks surrounded the ministry building in Asmara, regional diplomatic sources said.

They said state television and radio had gone off air.

Ambassador Araya Desta, Eritrea’s Permanent Representative to the UN said, “There is no problem. Everything is quiet. Everything is going to be solved. It is all fine.”

A statement from the US embassy in Asmara said the “US embassy Asmara is aware of press reports that tanks have reportedly surrounded some ministry buildings but cannot confirm all the reports. The situation remains fluid.”

There was no immediate indication it was an attempt to overthrow the government of Eritrea, which has been led by Isaias Afewerki, 66, for some two decades since it broke away from bigger neighbour Ethiopia.

The UN last year estimated that 5-10,000 political prisoners were being held in the secretive Horn of Africa country, which is accused by human rights groups of carrying out torture and summary executions.

The Red Sea state, which declared independence from Ethiopia after a long war, is one of the most opaque countries on the continent and it restricts access to foreign reporters.

Eritrean opposition activists exiled in neighbouring Ethiopia said there was growing dissent within the Eritrean military, especially over economic hardships.

“Economic issues have worsened and have worsened relations between the government and soldiers in the past few weeks and months,” one activist said.

The UN Security Council imposed an embargo on Eritrea in 2009 over concerns its government was funding and arming al-Shabaab rebels in neighbouring Somalia – charges Eritrea denied.

 

Update:

Eritrea is under siege following a coup d’Etat  by military force this morning,  a senior African expert, Martin Plaut has reported. Eritrean TV has been off air. Eritrean Defence force and two tanks stormed the ministry of Information head quarters. The report from Martin Plaut blog read as follows:

By Martin Plaut · in Eritrea, Horn of Africa –

JOHANNESBURG January 21, 2013 (AP)

An author who writes about the small nation of Eritrea says soldiers took control of the country’s Ministry of Information and read a statement on air saying the 1997 constitution would be applied.

Léonard Vincent, author of the book “The Eritreans” and co-founder of a Paris-based Eritrean radio station, says more than 100 soldiers took control of the ministry Monday morning.

Vincent said that the daughter of Eritrea’s president is among ministry officials being controlled by the soldiers. Vincent stopped short of calling it a coup d’etat and said it’s not yet clear if the action is a well-organized coup attempt or what he called a “kamikaze crash.”

Vincent said his information came from a ministry source and information gathered by Eritrean journalists working at the radio station he co-founded.

Latest from AFP:

ERITREAN TROOPS BESIEGE MUTINEERS IN ASMARA: DIPLOMAT

Eritrean army tanks besieged the information ministry in central Asmara on Monday after some 200 mutineers seized the building to call for political reform, diplomatic sources said Monday.
No shots had been fired and the rest of the city appeared calm, the diplomats added, although very few details were immediately available.

This information – which I had this from a friend this morning – has now been confirmed by a reliable source from Asmara.

This information – which I had this from a friend this morning – has now been confirmed by a reliable source from Asmara.

Around 100 members of the Eritrean Defence force and two tanks stormed the ministry of Information head quarters in Forto just outside Asmara and forced their commanders and also the top officials at the ministry into one room and then went on to force the news reader Asmelash to read announcements that:

  • they will be freeing all prisoners of conscience
  • they will implement the constitution
  • that the ministry of information is under their total control

Eritrean TV has been off air since then though our contacts did see the announcement and have confirmed that unusual movements around Forto.

Update:

Report, still not confirmed, that airport & central bank under control of dissident troops. Asmara calm. Armoured cars on streets.

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Posted by on January 21, 2013. Filed under FEATURED,NEWS. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.