Authorities expel three foreign NGOs

Eritrean authorities have asked three international nongovernmental organisations and one local NGO to stop operating in the country, saying they had failed to meet the requirements of a permit allowing them to work there, humanitarian sources said on Thursday.

In a letter dated 20 March, the ministry of labour and human welfare asked American charity Mercy Corps International, Concern World Wide of Ireland and Great Britain's ACORD, as well a local group known as Hansenians Eritrean Welfare Organisation, to terminate their operations in Eritrea.

"While thanking your organisation for the contribution it has made to relief and rehabilitation programs in Eritrea in the past years, the ministry kindly and regretfully informs you that the registration certificate is recalled and requests the termination of your activities," the letter said. The charities were asked to close down their operations with effect from 28 February.

The agencies said they were hoping to discuss the issue with the government. In the recent past, Eritrea has gradually changed its relations with the aid community, emphasising the need for self-reliance. Since a proclamation on administering the activities of NGOs was put into effect in June 2005, the number of NGOs working in the country has dwindled from 37 to 13. In July 2005, Eritrea, one of the world's most food aid-dependent countries, asked USAID - its largest donor of food aid - to stop operations, saying it was uncomfortable with the agency's work.

Observers have interpreted the changes as an expression of anger over a perception in Asmara that the international community favours its larger neighbour, Ethiopia, with which the Eritrea fought a border war from 1998 to 2000. The two nations are still engaged in a tense standoff over the dispute. Since October 2005, Eritrea has restricted United Nations peacekeepers patrolling its border with Ethiopia by banning helicopter flights and the movement of other vehicles at night over its territory. Asmara also expelled Western members of staff of the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea.