Nation at a crossroads, says president

Eritrean President Isayas Afewerki marked the country's 12th independence anniversary on Saturday with a warning that the nation had now reached a crossroads which could go either way.

"We find ourselves today [24 May], 12 years after our liberation, at a crossroads between a war that has come to an end but that appears unfinished, and a peace that has been ushered in but that remains uncertain," he said in a speech, carried by the official Shaebia website.

The Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF) marched into Asmara on 24 May 1991, after a 30-year guerrilla struggle against neighbouring Ethiopia, and independence was formalised by a referendum two years later.

Isayas accused Ethiopia of "concocting endless obstructions" to the demarcation of the two countries' common border, following a second war from 1998-2000 triggered by a skirmish in the border village of Badme.

"In the event, we have to be wary of entertaining unrealistic expectations," he said. "We cannot afford to be caught off guard again, as we should, indeed, draw appropriate lessons from the
experience of the past years."

Isayas did not dwell on the issue of dissident politicians, journalists and other detainees held in the country, although he said efforts were underway to improve the justice system.

"Clean, committed and dynamic administrative institutions are vital for stimulating the participation and productivity of the population," he said. "The objective of strengthening
the judicial system by establishing local courts at village level will, no doubt, cut red tape and reduce miscarriage of justice."

"Efforts underway to upgrade capacity in the court system are, likewise, expected to contribute to a better delivery of justice," he stated.

The political process, which he said was interrupted by the war, would "continue at an appropriate pace".

Demobilisation is still awaited in Eritrea, as are elections, postponed from December 2001, the introduction of political parties and implementation of the constitution which was ratified in 1997.