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Eritrea: Foreign Minister Ali said succumbs to a heart attack


28 August 2005, ASMARA, ERITREA (Reuters) - Eritrea's Foreign Minister Ali Said Abdella, a shepherd's son who became a rebel commander during the Red Sea state's fight for independence, died of a heart attack on Sunday.


"We will have three days of national mourning starting tomorrow," Information Minister Ali Abdu Ahmed told Reuters, confirming his colleague's death in his sleep.


Said, who was in his mid-fifties, will be buried on Tuesday.


"It's a great loss for this country," Abdu added.


In 1965, Said received medical and military training in Syria before going to the field with the Eritrean Liberation Front, one of two rebel groups at that time fighting for independence from Ethiopia.


In the 1970s and 1980s, he became a leading military commander with the other rebel group, the Eritrean People's Liberation Front, which became the People's Front for Democracy and Justice and is currently the governing party.


In 1992, he was appointed secretary for internal affairs in the provisional government after Eritrea won its 30-year struggle for independence in 1991.



In 2000, Ali Said was promoted to foreign minister.


Generally regarded as a hawk, Said was a fluent Arabic speaker. Most of his overseas trips were to the Middle East, though he travelled to Russia in April.


He leaves behind a wife and four children, all in Asmara except for a son doing national service at Sawa.


One of the trickier tasks on Said's portfolio was to handle Eritrea's continuously difficult ties with Ethiopia next door.


The two Horn of Africa neighbours, which lost 70,000 people in a 1998-2000 border war, have been in political deadlock since 2002, when Ethiopia refused to accept a demarcation decision by an independent boundary commission.


Information Minister Abdu said an autopsy on the body of Said, who died at about 6 a.m. local time (0300 GMT), confirmed the cause of death as a heart attack.


"Running for the next three or four days, we will open a condolence book at (government building) Denden Hall," he added.



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