Saturday, May 16, 2009

Eritrean Ambassador's visit

Yesterday the Eritrean Ambassador H E Mr T Gerahtu called on me, and we had a wide-ranging discussion. He said that DfID is helping with clean water and sanitation in the suburbs of Asmara, and had sent a mission to Eritrea in March to assess the prospects for other work. Interdepartmental consultation on their report followed, and the time for decisions is approaching.

On the MDGs, he said the World Bank had assessed Eritrea programmes for child health as the best in Africa, and I was pleased to hear they are signing up to the Advance Market Commitment for pneumococcal vaccine. See earlier blog on the report of the All-Party Committee on Pneumococcal Disease of which I was a member.

The Ambassador said it was difficult to understand why the international community wasn't firmer with Ethiopia on accepting the boundary decision by the Lauterpacht Commission, and withdrawing their forces from the border area so that people could return to their homes and land used for agriculture. Both Ethiopia and Eritrea would benefit from an asured peace between the two countries, enabling them to scale down their armed forces and to start up trade, to the advantage of their economies. Eritrea is developing the port of Assab, through which imports could reach parts of Ethiopia more cheaply than through Djibouti.

The Global Environment Fund is helping Eritrea to develop wind energy, a project where UK expertise might be helpful - my thought, not one the Ambassador suggested.

His Excellency told me there was a new Eritrea-Britain Association in Eritrea, and he hoped that a counterpart might be formed in the UK. He also hopes that more interest would be taken in Eritrea by Parliamentarians.

There are of course some problems in the UK's relationship with Eritrea. They attack the transitional federal government of the Islamic Courts Union as 'illicit and externally imposed', whereas we back the UN Security Council's support for Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, and the UN's AMISOM peacekeepers. The Ambassador thought the ICU government was doomed, but that would mean a takeover by Al-Shabaab, an organisation closely allied to terrorists.

There are also human rights problems in Eritrea, particularly the lack of a right of conscientious objection to military service. I raised the systematic persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses, who are deprived of citizenship rights and frequently imprisoned because of their beliefs, and I suggested to the Ambassador that it would enhance international goodwill towards Eritrea if conscientious objectors were released from custody.

No comments: