Eritrean troops force declaration on state television

January 22, 2013 - 2:42:46 am

ADDIS ABABA: A group of Eritrean soldiers laid siege to the information ministry yesterday and forced state media to announce a call for the release of political prisoners, a senior intelligence official said.

There was no immediate indication it was an attempt to overthrow the government, led by Isaias Afewerki, 66, for some two decades since it broke away from bigger neighbour Ethiopia.

The renegade soldiers forced the director of state television to make an announcement, the Eritrean intelligence official said.

The soldiers forced him to say on state TV the Eritrean government should release all political prisoners,” the source said.

There was no immediate official comment. The United Nations last year estimated that 5,000-10,000 political prisoners were being held in the secretive Horn of Africa country, which is accused by human rights groups of carrying out torture and summary executions.

Dozens of soldiers with two tanks surrounded the ministry building in Asmara, sources said, adding that state television and radio had gone off air. The gold-producing Red Sea state, which declared independence from Ethiopia after a long war, is one of the most opaque countries on the continent and restricts access to foreign reporters.

Eritrean opposition activists exiled in neighbouring Ethiopia said there was growing dissent within the Eritrean military especially over economic hardships.