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The State of Eritrea, or Eritrea (from the Italian form of the Greek name ΕΡΥΘΡΑΙΑ (Erythraîa; see also List of traditional Greek place names), which derives from the Greek name for the Red Sea), is a country in northeast Africa. It is bordered by Sudan in the west, Ethiopia in the south, and Djibouti in the southeast. The east and northeast of the country has an extensive coastline with the Red Sea. Having achieved independence on May 24, 1993 from Ethiopia, it is one of the youngest independent states.

Main article: History of Eritrea

Eritrea's coastal lowlands had been ruled by many powers before it was colonised by the Italians in 1885. Previously, the coast was long occupied by the Ottoman Turks, who then left it to their Egyptian heirs in the mid 19th century. The interior, particularly the Christian (predominantly Coptic) Kebessa Highlands of Hamasien, Akale Guzai, and Serai, were traditionally loosely associated with Ethiopia. An Italian Roman Catholic priest by the name of Sapetto purchased the port of Assab from the Afar Sultan (a vassal of the Emperor of Ethiopia) on behalf of an Italian commercial conglomerate. Later, as the Egyptians retreated out of Sudan during the Mahdist rebellion, the British brokered an agreement whereby the Egyptians could retreat through Ethiopia, and in exchange they would allow the Emperor to occupy those lowland districts that he had disputed with the Turks and Egyptians. Emperor Yohannis IV believed this included Massawa, but instead, the port was handed by the Egyptians and the British to the Italians, who united it with the already colonised port of Asab to form a coastal Italian possession. The Italians took advantage of disorder in northern Ethiopia following the death of Emperor Yohannis IV to occupy the highlands, and established their new colony, henceforth known as Eritrea, and achieved recognition by Ethiopia's new Emperor Menelik II.

The Italians remained the colonial power in Eritrea until they were defeated by Allied forces in World War II (1941), and Eritrea became a British protectorate. After the war, the United Nations, after a lengthy inquiry in which those who wanted union with Ethiopia and those who wanted independence lobbied the great powers and the U.N. extensively, eventually reached a compromise that the former Italian colony was to join Ethiopia as part of a federation. Eritrea would have its own parliament and administration, and would be represented in the Ethiopian parliament which would function as the Federal Parliament. The Emperor of Ethiopia, Emperor Haile Selassie, would be the monarch of Eritrea and would be represented there by a viceroy. Both unionists and pro-independence people found the federation to be undesirable. By a show of military force in the Eritrean Parliament the federation was dissolved by Ethiopia. The Emperor agreed readily and annexed Eritrea in 1960 even over the serious reservations of his Prime Minister, Aklilu Habte-Wold, who was ardently in favor of retaining the federation. Promptly, pro-independence Eritreans went into rebellion and launched a long war of independence. They were joined by disaffected federationists who now were convinced Eritrea would be better off as an independent state. The war would last 30 years.

The war of Eritrean Independence would escalate considerably after the overthrow of the Ethiopian monarchy in 1974, when a hardline Marxist military junta known as the Derg seized power, and launched a major offensive in Eritrea. The brutality of the government of dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam did much to increase the numbers of the independence movements supporters to the point that Eritreans became almost exclusively pro-independence by the mid-1980s.

The liberation struggle was dominated by two movements, the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF), often refered to as "Jebha", and by the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF), often known as "Shaebia". The ELF was dominated by Muslim lowlanders, and was a conservative grass roots movement, whereas the EPLF was dominated by highlanders of Christian background, professing Marxism-Leninism. The ELF received backing from the more conservative Arab governments, whereas the EPLF from the more leftist ones, and some Eastern bloc countries which abandoned it in favor of the Derg regime in Ethiopia upon the Ethiopian revolution. The ELF and EPLF made attempts to consolidate their operations, but soon found that they could not work together. The ELF was eventually overshadowed and eliminated by the EPLF.

The long war ended in 1991, when joint Eritrean and rebellious Ethiopian forces defeated the Ethiopian army, and the Derg regime fell. Two years later, after a referendum, Eritrean independence was declared. The leader of the EPLF, Isaias Afewerki, became Eritrea's first Provisional President. The Eritrean Peoples Liberation front (EPLF or Shaebia), became the sole legal ruling party, and changed its name to the People's Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ).

In 1998, a border war with Ethiopia resulted in the deaths of some 70,000 people from both countries, and subjected Eritrea to significant economic and social stresses, including massive population displacement, reduced economic development, and one of Africa's more severe landmine problems. The Ethiopian government, once firm allies of the Eritrean authorities, expelled large numbers of Eritreans and Ethiopians of Eritrean heritage from Ethiopia at the outset of the war. These once-prosperous people found themselves suddenly dispossessed and dropped off in the border zone between the two countries, adding to the serious displaced-persons problem.

In spite of initially promising economic and political strides, the Eritrean government cracked down on the free press and on opposition in 2001 when questions about the conduct of the war were raised. The government also failed to implement the new Constitution and to hold long-promised elections. Later, the government of Eritrea enforced the Italian colonial practice of requiring government approval of all practiced religions.

The Eritrean-Ethiopian War ended in 2000 with a negotiated agreement known as the Algiers Agreement. One of the terms of the agreement was the establishment of a UN peacekeeping operation, known as the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE); over 4,000 UN peacekeepers remain as of August 2004. Another term of the Algiers Agreement was the establishment of a final demarcation of the disputed border area between Eritrea and Ethiopia. An independent, UN-associated boundary commission known as the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC), after extensive study, issued a final border ruling in April 2002. Ethiopia initially rejected the decision, but in November of 2004 said that it agreed to the border ruling "in principle." However, Ethiopia has massed some troops along the nations' border, but no widespread hostilities have erupted..
Eritrea was awarded to Ethiopia in 1952 as part of a federation. Ethiopia's annexation of Eritrea as a province 10 years later sparked a 30-year struggle for independence that ended in 1991 with Eritrean rebels defeating governmental forces; independence was overwhelmingly approved in a 1993 referendum. A two and a half year border war with Ethiopia that erupted in 1998 ended under UN auspices on 12 December 2000. Eritrea currently hosts a UN peacekeeping operation that will monitor the border region until an international commission determines and demarcates the boundary between the two countries.
Eastern Africa, bordering the Red Sea, between Djibouti and Sudan
Geographic coordinates:
15 00 N, 39 00 E
Map references:
total: 121,320 sq km
water: 0 sq km
land: 121,320 sq km
Area - comparative:
slightly larger than Pennsylvania
Land boundaries:
total: 1,626 km
border countries: Djibouti 109 km, Ethiopia 912 km, Sudan 605 km
2,234 km total; mainland on Red Sea 1,151 km, islands in Red Sea 1,083 km
Maritime claims:
territorial sea: 12 NM
hot, dry desert strip along Red Sea coast; cooler and wetter in the central highlands (up to 61 cm of rainfall annually); semiarid in western hills and lowlands; rainfall heaviest during June-September except in coastal desert
dominated by extension of Ethiopian north-south trending highlands, descending on the east to a coastal desert plain, on the northwest to hilly terrain and on the southwest to flat-to-rolling plains
Elevation extremes:
lowest point: near Kulul within the Denakil depression -75 m
highest point: Soira 3,018 m
Natural resources:
gold, potash, zinc, copper, salt, possibly oil and natural gas, fish
noun: Eritrean(s)
adjective: Eritrean
Ethnic groups:
ethnic Tigrinya 50%, Tigre and Kunama 40%, Afar 4%, Saho (Red Sea coast dwellers) 3%, other 3%
Muslim, Coptic Christian, Roman Catholic, Protestant
Afar, Amharic, Arabic, Tigre and Kunama, Tigrinya, other Cushitic languages
nakfa (ERN)
Currency code:
Exchange rates:
nakfa (ERN) per US dollar - 9.5 (January 2000), 7.6 (January 1999), 7.2 (March 1998 est.)

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