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Eritrea Is Ready, but Aid Hinges On Broader Political Participation

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PROUD of their victory in a 30-year war against Ethiopia, Eritrean fighters-turned-politicians are determined to run things their way.

To senior Eritrean officials, that means not bowing to Western demands for quick democratization or immediate economic reforms, even at the expense of losing some foreign aid.

Eritrea "definitely will not accept conditions regarding democracy," says head of state Isaias Afewerki, secretary-general of the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF).

"Our policies do not mean to satisfy the needs of external forces [donors]," says Haile Woldense, secretary of the Department of Economic Development and Cooperation. He acknowledges the need for considerable foreign help in reviving Eritrea's shattered economy.

This insistence on self-determination is based partly on confidence Eritreans gained in winning a war against the Ethiopian Army. "They know Marxism [once espoused by the EPLF] is finished, but they're not enamored with the wide divisions between the rich and poor," a Western diplomat says.

Dr. Haile wants a "market-oriented" economy, as does Mr. Afewerki. But some EPLF officials continue to insist on a "mixed" economy in which the state plays an important role.

The usual Western demands for rapid economic reforms and scaling back government payrolls are not going to be easy for Eritrea. "We want to privatize," says Haile, concerning sale of state-owned industries. But, he adds, "even to assess [their worth] is difficult." Eritrea lacks the skilled personnel to carry out such assessments and many other vital tasks.

THOUGH it is practically without foreign debt the country has little money. Eritrea does not plan to honor debts incurred by former Ethiopian regimes.

There are few good roads and many industries are running at less then 30 percent of capacity. Oil and mineral deposits have not yet been exploited.

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