By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
April 23, 2012 (ADDIS ABABA) – The Eritrean government on Monday dismissed allegations that its president, Isaias Afewerki, is fatally ill; claiming it is a smear campaign orchestrated by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
Recently Eritrean opposition groups have been alleging that the former rebel leader’s health has deteriorated due liver disease and has sought medical treatment in Qatar.
However, in a statement released on Monday, the Eritrean ministry of information said the president is “in robust health, and by all means of medical standard, he is at the peak of his health”.
Eritrea accused the CIA of being the “rumour monger” which fomented the allegation.
In the Ethiopian capital, an Eritrean opposition official, Nesredin Ahmed of the Red Sea Afar Democratic Organization (RSADO) told Sudan Tribune that his organisation is waiting for reliable information on the president’s health from its sources in Asmara, which will be disclosed soon.
Afewerki has been the president of the former Ethiopian province since it gained independence in 1993.
Asmara’s relationship with the US has long been fraught; it often accuses the US of siding with arch-enemy, Ethiopia.
The Eritrean leader recently accused the US of being behind last month’s cross-border raids by the Ethiopian army.
Addis Ababa targeted bases which it accused of harbouring rebels who carried out raids in Ethiopia, with Eritrea’s backing.
Following the attack, on state television Afewerki said the attacks – which were Ethiopia’s first military incursion into Eritrea since the two neighbours ended the 1998-2000 border war – were plotted by Washington, with the aim of diverting attention from implementing the boundary commission’s decision.
The Hague-based boundary commission awarded the Badme region to Eritrea in 2002, but it remains under Ethiopian control.
According to a leaked cable from the US embassy in Asmara, the former US ambassador, Ronald McMullen, said Afewerki feared the US would try to kill him by firing a missile on his residence in the coastal city of Massawa. McMullen also described Afewerki as an “unhinged dictator“.
Eritrea, which is under growing global diplomatic pressure, is facing UN-imposed sanctions for arming and financially supporting al-Qaeda-linked militants fighting to overthrow the weak, UN-backed government of Somalia.
Eritrea is widely accused of being a destabilising force in the region.