Rumsfeld discusses terror threat during whirlwind tour

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld flew to Djibouti on Wednesday after agreeing with Ethiopia to coordinate the fight against terrorism.

Rumsfeld, who met Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in Addis Ababa on Tuesday, said both countries should work closely to counter terrorist activities.

The defence secretary is on a 28-hour whirlwind tour of the Horn of Africa visiting Eritrea, Ethiopia and Djibouti.

Meles said terrorist activity in the region was on the rise. Earlier this week he accused a Somali-based Islamic organisation, Al-Ittihad, of being behind last month's twin bomb attacks in the Kenyan holiday resort of Mombasa. He said the organisation was linked to the Al Qaeda network.

Last week, Meles held talks in Washington with US President George Bush and Kenyan leader Daniel arap Moi.

Rumsfeld began his Horn of Africa tour in Eritrea earlier on Tuesday, where he met President Isayas Afewerki. At a press conference following the talks, Rumsfeld said the US considered Eritrea an important partner in Africa, with invaluable experience in fighting terrorist organisations within its own borders.

"This is a country that has been dealing with the problem of terrorism in the same way our country has," Rumsfeld said. "And we both agree that these kinds of problems… require cooperation over a sustained period of time."

He said the US was looking to build a "larger coalition of nations that respect sovereignty and respect freedom, and a closer cooperation putting more and more pressure on terrorists of all types on all continents".

For his part, Isayas offered to allow the US to use strategically-placed Eritrea in the fight against global terrorism.

"We are not offering anything to get anything from the United States," he said. "We have very limited resources, but we are willing and prepared to offer these limited resources to fight the global war on terror."

Rumsfeld said he had discussed the closure of the private press in Eritrea, as well as the detention of a number of political leaders and two Eritrean US embassy employees with President Isayas, but emphasised that each country was a sovereign nation with the right to deal with internal issues as it deemed appropriate.

He said there was "clarity on both sides" on these issues, and added that the US remained committed to strengthening its relationship with Eritrea. Earlier this year, the State Department issued a statement criticising the human rights situation in the country.

While in Djibouti - across the Red Sea from Yemen - Rumsfeld will meet US troops who have been moved to the region, before going on to Qatar. His visit there will coincide with a crucial military exercise taking place in the Gulf region this week.