Eritrea

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Djibouti and Eritrea leaders meet after a decade

Mary Harper

Africa editor, BBC World Service

The presidents of Djibouti and Eritrea have met for the first time in more than a decade.

At a summit in Saudi Arabia, Presidents Ismail Omar Guelleh and Isaias Afwerki agreed on a new chapter of cooperation.

There has been a long-standing border dispute between the two countries, which has occasionally erupted into violence.

The United Nations Secretary General Antonia Guterres said he hoped the agreement would lead to great stability in the Horn of Africa.

There has been significant change in the region, mainly spearheaded by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who came to power in April.

Presidents Ismail Omar Guelleh and Isaias Afwerki shake hands at the summit
SPA
Presidents Ismail Omar Guelleh (left) and Isaias Afwerki shook hands at the summit

Hollywood star's tribute to Eritrean father

In tribute to her late father who was Eritrean, US comedian Tiffany Haddish wore the colours of the East African nation's flag to the Emmy Awards in Los Angeles on Monday night.

She won the prize for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series for her hosting stint on the comedy sketch show Saturday Night Live.

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The Girls Trip star visited Eritrea earlier this year for her father's funeral.

"I felt like my heart was being healed," she told EriTV at the time.

"I've been through a lot of things. I was trying to figure out, 'Who am I?' And now I have a way better understanding of who I am, why I'm on this earth - what my purpose is."

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Ethiopia-Eritrea border celebrations
Ethiopians and Eritreans hug and kiss as two key crossing points reopen after more than 20 years.

Eritrea hunt for Pentecostal Christians after sermon

BBC Tigrinya

Preacher Surafiel Demssie
BBC
Preacher Surafiel Demssie gave an informal sermon on a street in Asmara

Security agents in Eritrea are hunting for Pentecostal Christians who attended an informal sermon given by an Ethiopian evangelist last month.

Preacher Surafiel Demssie had travelled to the capital, Asmara, on the first Ethiopian Airlines flight to Eritrea after the two countries ended their 20-year feud.

Eritrea only has four religions - Orthodox Christianity, Sunni Islam, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Evangelical-Lutheran church of Eritrea. Other religious groups are considered illegal.

So far, five of those who welcomed the preacher have been arrested in Asmara and others have gone into hiding fearing arrest.

One person, who is believed to have hosted the preacher, was arrested at the airport and taken away by security.

Security agents dressed in civilian clothes picked up some of those arrested.

"At first the police said they were arrested for blocking a road and would be released soon," said a relative of one of those arrested.

But later it transpired it was the National Security Agency who had arrested them, he said.

"We were very happy when the peace agreement was signed between Ethiopia and Eritrea," said Kesete Beraki, who advocates for the release of those in detention.

"We were hoping there would be changes in Eritrea too, but so far we have been disappointed."

Those arrested have not appeared before a court. Prisoners of conscience, including followers of evangelical churches, do not get charged formally before any court of law.

Human rights activist say hundreds of followers of these illegal churches are in detention.

The government banned Pentecostal churches in 2002 and several religious leaders have been detained incommunicado for more than a decade.

Somali president to visit Eritrea

In the latest sign of shifting diplomatic relations in the Horn of Africa, Somalia's President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo is due in Eritrea on Saturday.

Eritrea's information minister has tweeted the details:

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The visit follows the rapprochement between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Somalia's UN-backed government, which is an ally of Ethiopia, has long been at odds with Eritrea.

Eritrea has been under UN sanctions since 2009 after it was accused of backing the al-Shabab Islamist insurgency in Somalia. Asmara denied the allegations.

There has been a call now for those to be dropped.

Eritrea has been 'demonised'

Yemane: To portray Eritrea as the worst [human rights] violator has no basis in fact

Eritrea's Information Minister Yemane Gebre Meskel has said that he was surprised by the speed at which relations with Ethiopia have improved.

He told the BBC's Emmanuel Igunza that he was not expecting the level of goodwill that has been witnessed.

Just a few weeks ago the idea that the leaders of the two countries would meet face-to-face was unthinkable. But following the declaration by Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Eritrea's President Isaias Afwerki that the "state of war" is over things have changed rapidly.

Some activists are now asking whether the situation within Eritrea will change.

President Isaias has been in power since independence in 1993 and has never been elected.

His government has been accused of a raft of human rights violations. Amnesty International says freedom of expression is restricted and "arbitrary detention without charge or trial continue to be the norm for thousands of prisoners of conscience".

But Mr Yemane dismissed these accusations.

"Yes, Eritrea may have... shortcomings here and there," he admitted, "but to portray Eritrea as the worst violator has no basis in fact".

He said that the "so-called human rights agenda" has been pedalled for political purposes and that Eritrea has been stigmatised and demonised.

Of particular concern to rights groups is the indefinite national service. But Mr Yemane said this was a misnomer as it was never intended to be indefinite.

He said the 1994 national service law was about reducing the size of the standing army but the state of tension with Ethiopia meant that people had to serve longer than planned.

He would not say whether this would now change.

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Ethiopia and Eritrea leaders get medal for peace efforts

Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Eritrea's President Isaias Afwerki have been awarded the United Arab Emirates' highest honour.

The two men are in the UAE after their dramatic steps towards reconciliation since the beginning of the month.

Advisers to the two leaders have been tweeting from the UAE.

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The UAE played an important role in bringing the two countries together after two decades of tension, regional analyst Martin Plaut says.

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