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Free at Last

THIS weekend's resounding vote by Eritreans for independence from Ethiopia restores the country to the international standing it has been seeking since 1961.

During the country's three-decade civil war, waves of Ethiopian government repression and famine swept Eritrea's mountainous countryside. Asmera - a capital that was once called the "Second Rome" by colonial Italians - was reduced to a shambles.

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In the two years since the Eritrean People's Liberation Front's military victory, sewers, roads, clinics, and schools have been partially rebuilt by the 95,000 volunteers of the Army-turned-civil-works-brigade.

Elections have also been held on village, local, and provincial levels. Work on a constitution is under way.

The resourcefulness of Eritreans during their 30-year civil war is legendary. When villagers were driven out of their homes by systematic Ethiopian government bombing (using Soviet-supplied MIG jets), they built a survival infrastructure that was literally underground. Working hospitals, vehicle- and weapon-repair facilities, and habitation were thus protected from aerial attacks.

One-third of the Eritrean population lives outside the country now. They participated in the referendum through election commissions worldwide. These emigres have demonstrated their commitment to rebuilding the nation by sending money and materiel.

Yet lacking recognition as a sovereign state until this weekend, Eritrea has been hindered in gaining access to international credit through participation in the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

Through their persistence and ingenuity, Eritreans eked out a victory over the Marxist regime of President Mengistu Haile-Mariam.

The country presents the Western world one of the most productive prospects for multinational assistance on the African continent. Eritrea deserves international recognition and support.

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