Dissident Eritrean troops seize ministry

Mon Jan 21, 2013 1:42pm EST
 

By Aaron Maasho

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Dissident Eritrean soldiers with tanks took over the information ministry on Monday and forced state media to call for political prisoners to be freed, a senior intelligence official said.

The renegade soldiers have not gone as far as to demand the overthrow of the government of one of Africa's most secretive states, long at odds with the United States and accused of human rights abuses.

Eritrea has been led by Isaias Afewerki, 66, for some two decades since it broke from bigger neighbor Ethiopia. The fledging gold producer on the Red Sea coast has become increasingly isolated, resisting foreign pressure to open up.

Soldiers forced the director general of state television "to say the Eritrean government should release all political prisoners," the Eritrean intelligence source told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

There was no immediate statement from the Asmara government.

Between 5,000 and 10,000 political prisoners are being held in the country of about 6 million people, the United Nations human rights chief said last year, accusing Eritrea of torture and summary executions.

State media went off air after the call for prisoners to be freed. The mutineers were low- to mid-ranking soldiers who sought a change in the constitution rather than a coup, said one regional expert with close connections in Asmara.

About 200 soldiers with two tanks were involved and they had also surrounded the ministry, diplomats in the region said. It was unclear whether loyalist troops were moving against them.   Continued...