- The Washington Times - Monday, August 29, 2005

Eritrea rejects U.S. aid

The U.S. ambassador to Eritrea is puzzled by the government’s decision to refuse further assistance from Washington to fight hunger and poverty in the East African nation.

Ambassador Scott DeLisi and a senior team of U.S. diplomats held talks yesterday with top Eritrean officials about why the government no longer wants aid from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

“The government has told us that they are uncomfortable with the activities of USAID,” Mr. DeLisi told reporters in Asmara, the capital of the nation in the Horn of Africa. “I cannot answer the question for you as to why.”

The United States provided more than $75 million in aid to Eritrea last year and delivered 775,000 tons of food there in the past five years.

Mr. DeLisi and Donald Yamamoto, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs, reported no progress in their meeting yesterday, according to Agence France-Presse.

Last week, Mr. DeLisi admitted that he could not explain why Eritrea rejected the assistance.

“Am I disappointed? Yes, I’m disappointed,” he said.

Mr. DeLisi said the U.S. Embassy refused until last week to comment on rumors circulating since July that the government would ask the U.S. agency to cease its operations.

“Part of the reason that we have not been saying much publicly — and I won’t go into much detail — is that we are trying to avoid any precipitous actions on our part that could lead to misunderstandings about our relationship,” the ambassador said.

Mr. DeLisi insisted that the United States respects the sovereignty of Eritrea, one of the world’s poorest countries.

“We will be here as long as the government of Eritrea wants us here. If the government does not want us here, we will respect your government’s wishes. We have no choice. What else are we going to do?” he said.

Watching Egypt

The State Department is closely monitoring the Egyptian presidential campaign but will not prejudge the fairness of the process leading up to the Sept. 7 election.

Spokesman Sean McCormack said the United States has reminded Egypt of the need to demonstrate fairness and openness in the first multicandidate campaign and that a democracy means more than elections.

“One of the issues that we raise with Egypt, as well as other countries around the world, is the fact that it’s not just election day that matters,” he told reporters yesterday.

“It’s the run-up to the election and then, postelection day, the counting of the ballots and the announcement of the electoral results.”

Mr. McCormack urged the Egyptian government to ensure that the nine candidates running against President Hosni Mubarak have equal access to the press. The 77-year-old president, in power for 24 years, has strong influence over the state-licensed press.

“We encourage the Egyptian government to make available or to ensure that candidates do have equitable access to media so they can talk to the Egyptian people about their visions for Egypt’s future,” Mr. McCormack said.

However, he added, the State Department will not critique the conduct of the campaign so far.

“I’m not going to do any sort of midterm assessments … or play-by-plays on this,” Mr. McCormack said. “We’ll take a look at the entire run-up to the election, the election and the postelection period. We’ll have some comment at that point.”

Meanwhile, in Cairo, Egypt’s largest human rights organization expressed fears that the election will not be fair because the government refuses to allow independent observers, although it will allow representatives of the candidates and election judges to monitor the vote.

“I don’t expect we will reach a fair or true result because steps until now by the [electoral] committee have shown a lot of arbitrariness and a lack of transparency,” said Hafez Abu Seada, secretary-general of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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