Eritrea denies report of killings
LONDON, Nov 6, 2004 (Reuters) - Eritrea strongly denied an
opposition report that several people were killed on Friday in violence at an
overcrowded prison holding alleged draft dodgers.
The information minister of the small Horn of Africa state,
Ali Abdu, told Reuters by telephone on Saturday that the report of an incident
at a detention centre near the capital Asmara on Friday evening was a smear
orchestrated by former foe Ethiopia.
"It is not only false, it is a smear campaign. There
was no incident. It is totally baseless. These (allegations are made by) are
agents of the Ethiopian regime."
The Web site asmarino.com, published by Eritreans living
overseas, said security forces in Asmara had arrested many young people
suspected of dodging military service on Friday and sent them to a detention
centre at Adi Abieto just outside Asmara.
Frustrated by the resulting overcrowding, detainees at the
centre pushed down a wall which fell outwards and killed five guards, said the
Web site, which also hosts a wide array of commentary hostile to the
"Shooting started and soon after there was utter chaos.
Unconfirmed reports say that the guards started shooting, killing over 20
detainees and wounding over 100," the Web site said.
Abdu said the report "might as well have come from the
Ethiopian news agency".
Eritrea won effective independence from Ethiopia in 1991
after a 30-year guerrilla struggle. Between 1998 and 2000, the neighbours
fought a fierce two-year war over their disputed border which is now patrolled
by U.N. peacekeepers.
Abdu said security forces had been carrying out what he
called routine monitoring measures to identify lawless elements. But there had
been no round-up of draft dodgers, he said.
"There are normal security procedures. The law is
applied for all, to find the few lawless...We have these routine operations for
the national interest."
National service is compulsory for young Eritreans and 10
percent of Eritrea's 4.3 million population are estimated to be in the army.
The country's banned opposition umbrella group, the Eritrean
National Alliance (ENA), says every young man in Eritrea is being called up for
military service in preparation for a fresh war with Ethiopia.
It alleged the government is increasingly unpopular and
wants the war to create a diversion in order to hold on to power.
Eritrea's government dismisses the ENA and other opposition
groups as stooges of neighbouring states bent on destabilising the country,
saying they have no supporters inside Eritrea.