KAMPALA (Reuters) - Eritrea on Thursday condemned Canada’s refusal to grant its foreign minister a visa on the grounds that he took part in the Red Sea state’s 30-year war for independence from Ethiopia.
The conflict which led to independence in 1991 has taken on mythic proportions for many Eritreans.
“The Government of Eritrea strongly condemns this hostile act and expressly requests the Canadian authorities to rectify this outrageous conduct,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement on state-run Web site www.shabait.com.
The government also posted a letter from Canada’s embassy in Kenya, which said Osman Saleh’s involvement in the 1961-1991 war with Addis Ababa had prevented him from getting a visa.
“You were a member of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front between 1979 and 1991. The EPLF was a group that engaged in the subversion of a government by force,” the letter said.
“Canadian Federal Court jurisprudence confirms that membership in a group that attempts to subvert even a despotic government is sufficient to render inadmissibility,” it added.
Canadian officials in Nairobi were not immediately available for comment.
Some Western nations have been slow to take Cold War-era African rebels off their old terrorist lists. In June, U.S. lawmakers finally erased “terrorist” references to South Africa’s Nelson Mandela.
Eritrea has recently enjoyed relatively good relations with Canada, particularly compared to its strained ties with the United States. Asmara accuses Washington of failing to force Ethiopia to withdraw troops from a disputed border region.
In its statement, Eritrea’s Foreign Ministry said Canada’s move was an “embarrassing aberration” in diplomatic conduct.
“What is more horrendous is, however, the reasons that the country’s immigration authorities have given to explain their provocative act,” Asmara said.
During Osman’s time in the EPLF, Eritrean rebels battled the forces of Ethiopian dictator Haile Mengistu Mariam, whose “Red Terror” regime murdered tens of thousands until he was overthrown in 1991.
Eritrea and Ethiopia went to war in 1998 over the Horn of Africa neighbors’ frontier, killing 70,000 people. Both nations remain deadlocked over the 1000-km (620-mile) border.
Editing by Daniel Wallis