Tension with Sudan
Tension is rising between Eritrea and Sudan since Eritrea’s foreign minister accused the Sudanese authorities and in particular head of state general Hassan Omar Al Bechir and his éminence grise, the leader of the National Islamic Front (NIF) Hassan Al Tourabi, at the end of June of having fomented a plot to assassinate Eritrean President Isaias Afeworki. According to a diplomatic source in Asmara, several dozen Eritrean military are believed to have been killed and others wounded during the first two weeks of July, in skirmishes with Sudanese government forces. Officials of foreign NGO’s based in Eritrea have reported that controls of personnel and vehicles going into the western part of the country, near the Sudanese frontier, are getting much stricter. The Asmara authorities and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA, Sudanese opposition based in Asmara) officially deny all direct military involvement of Eritrean troops in anti-government combat inside Sudan. According to an ION editorial,
(Indian Ocean Newsletter, 19 July 1997)this assertion appears less and less credible in view of mounting signs that the Asmara authorities have decided to make logistical and military means available to rebels of NDA in order to try to cut, in the coming months, the road linking Khartoum and Port Sudan in a bid to asphyxiate the Islamic regime in the Sudanese capital.
Kabila visited Eritrea
Laurent Kabila, President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, visited Eritrea for three days from 23 July. While contents of his talks with his Eritrean counterpart, Isaias Afeworki, were not disclosed to the public, “fears” were raising in Khartoum, according to a private Sudanese paper, that
(AFP, 2 August 1997).something is planned in secrecy.
“Nakfa” - the new Eritrean Currency
Eritrea, having used Ethiopian Birr so far, is about to introduce its own currency. The new legal tender’s name is the “Nakfa”, named after a battlefield town which became famous in the Derg-time war of liberation. While the exchange rate between Nakfa and Birr is one to one, the Ethiopian Birr will also remain in use during the transition period up to the end of 1997. (Addis Tribune, 25 July and Seven Days Update, 28 July 1997).
Arbitration on Hanish Island dispute gaining momentum
The arbitration court adjudicating the disputes between Eritrea and Yemen over ownership rights of the Hanish Islands has completed preliminary investigations and moved on to the second stage of its work. The international court set up by the parties to the dispute in London is said to have asked Eritrea and Yemen to present their documentary evidence. (Seven Days Update, 28 July 1997)
Oil refinery to move
The announcement that the ageing Assab oil refinery, which exports 70 percent of its production to Ethiopia, will close as of 1 August will oblige the government in Addis Ababa to import refined petroleum products. According to media reports, the Assab refinery will be moved to Massawa in about 18 months. The project has been given to the Italian Agip oil company. In a related development, the Eritrean government is said to be preparing to undertake renovation work at the ports of Assab and Massawa. These projects, worth about 30 million dollars, will reportedly be financed by the International Development Association of the World Bank. (Seven Days Update, 21 July 1997)