* Mutineers stormed information ministry on Monday
* Demanded release of political prisoners
* One-party state shunned internationally
By Richard Lough
NAIROBI, Jan 22 Dissident Eritrean soldiers who
had seized the information ministry were gone on Tuesday and
calm returned to the capital, Asmara, an Eritrean envoy and
Western diplomat said.
The soldiers took over the ministry on Monday to demand the
release of thousands of political prisoners, a sign of a
deepening rift between some factions of the military and the
secretive country's president, Isaias Afewerki.
Eritrea's envoy to South Africa said there had been a "small
incident" at the ministry but that order had been restored.
"The situation in Asmara and elsewhere is no different from
any other day," Salih Omar Abdu told Reuters.
State television was back on air. Its main headline was the
heavy snow in Paris, an Asmara-based diplomat said.
It was unclear how order had been restored. There were no
reports of gunshots.
The mutineers, about 200 soldiers backed by tanks, had not
made public demands beyond the release of political prisoners -
estimated by the United Nations to number between 5,000 and
10,000 in the country of about 6 million people.
The Red Sea state has become increasingly isolated under the
two-decade rule of 66-year-old former guerrilla Isaias who led
his country to independence in 1993 after a 30-year war with the
government in Ethiopia.
Eritrea has long been at odds with the West and the U.N.
human rights chief accused it last year of torture and summary
Growing economic hardship for many Eritreans - despite an
influx of investment from gold miners - is eating away at
Isaias' support base, regional diplomats say.
That includes within the army, which has more soldiers per
person than any country except North Korea, they say.
Phone lines to the information ministry were open on
Tuesday, but calls from Reuters journalists were disconnected.
An official from the commissioner of police's office said:
"There's no problem."
Yemane Ghebremeskel, director of the Office of the
President, said on Twitter: "All is calm today as it was indeed
Eritrea occupies a strategic strip of mountainous land
overlooking the entrance to the Gulf of Aden, one of the world's
busiest shipping lanes.
Shares in gold companies with mines or projects fell sharply
on Monday. Toronto-listed Nevsun Resources Ltd was down
9 percent. Those in the small explorer Sunridge Gold Corp
were at one point in the session down 26 percent.
"These events have had no effect on Sunridge's ongoing
engineering studies and drilling operations in the country," the
Vancouver-listed company said in a statement.