Eritrea says USAid banning is 'irreversible'

Eritrea’s decision to bar the US Agency for International Development (USAid) from operating in the impoverished Horn of Africa nation is “irreversible,” the country’s national development minister said on Wednesday.

The minister, Woldai Futur, said that Asmara would not back down on its demand for USAid to halt its humanitarian assistance programmes despite high-level appeals from Washington made this week by visiting senior US diplomats.

“The decision is irreversible,” he said, after meetings in Asmara between Eritrean officials and a US delegation led by Donald Yamamoto, the deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs.

“We are uncomfortable with the operations of the USAid office in Asmara,” Woldai said, declining to elaborate on what he meant by “uncomfortable”.

“I cannot go beyond that,” he said, adding, however, that Eritrea was not rejecting all development assistance from the United States and still wanted to improve ties with Washington.

“We want a much stronger and more focused relationship in development with the government of the USA,” Woldai said. “There are other avenues apart from USAid where cooperation can flourish.”

“There are a lot of countries where USaid doesn’t operate,” he said.

“The cooperation could be from government to government. Development assistance can be extended without USAid. We still want a strong relationship with the USA.”

Woldai’s comments were the first official response from Eritrean authorities to the bar on USAid which was made public in a speech last week by US ambassador to Eritrea, Scott DeLisi.

In his comments, DeLisi expressed disappointment with the government’s request that USAid stop operations in the country but said the United States would comply with its wishes.

At the same time, Washington dispatched Yamamoto and several senior USAid officials to Asmara to see if the situation could be resolved.

State-run Eritrean media suggested on Wednesday that that festering border tensions between Eritrea and Ethiopia and a lack of US presssure on Addis Ababa to accept an international panel’s delineation of the frontier were behind the problem.

“The non-resolution of the Eritrea-Ethiopia border issue is negatively affecting the necessary cooperation and work coordination between Eritrea and the United States,” official newspapers said.

Asmara regularly accuses Washington of failing to put pressure on Ethiopia to accept a legally binding 2002 ruling on the border that Addis Ababa continues to reject despite agreeing to accept it in the peace deal that ended their 1998-2000 war.

The Eritrean move against USAid also comes amid wrangles between Asmara and other international aid agencies over tax requirements on imported food assistance and equipment for relief operations. - Sapa-AFP

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