The Eritrean government has asked the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to cease its operations in the Horn of Africa country, the US Ambassador said on Thursday in the capital, Asmara.
"I'm not going to go into great details about this publicly because we are still talking with [the] government about these issues," Scott DeLisi said. "They have asked us to cease operations."
Noting that he respected Eritrea's right as a sovereign state to make such decisions, the Ambassador added: "I cannot answer for you the question as to why [they made the decision]. The government has told us that they are uncomfortable with the activities of USAID; that is all I know."
Relations between the aid community and the Eritrean government have become strained in recent months, following the impounding of more than 100 project vehicles and the announcement of a new proclamation requiring aid agencies to pay taxes.
The new regulations also require international NGOs to register on an annual basis, to have at least US $2 million at their disposal in the country and to pay taxes on the import of relief aid items, including food.
"Am I disappointed? Yes, I'm disappointed," DeLisi told a meeting in Asmara.
"We've had a very good partnership. I am very, very proud of everything that USAID has done in this country," he added, listing partnerships in health, agriculture and capacity building.
It was not possible to get an immediate comment from the Eritrean authorities.
Another 36 NGOs in the Red Sea state, many of them funded by USAID, were on Wednesday still waiting to hear the results of their applications for registration to operate under the terms of the 11 May regulations.
In June, US President George Bush announced that the United States would provide about $674 million in additional aid for Africa. Of that amount, $414 million was targeted for immediate famine prevention assistance in the Horn of Africa. Eritrea is to receive 200,000 tonnes of wheat this year, valued at about $100 million, under this arrangement.
According to the US State Department, 153,905 tonnes of food has already been provided to meet more than 43 percent of the Eritrea's 2005 food aid needs.
Eritrea is one of the most food aid-dependent countries in the world, with roughly two-thirds of its 3.6 million people requiring some 262,000 tonnes of cereal food aid this year alone.
However, the UN World Food Programme reported recently that food donations for some NGOs and international organisations had been delayed at Eritrea's Massawa Port since early July. The agency said the delays were caused by differences over the new rules.
However, Eritrea's Minister of Labour and Human Welfare, Askalu Menkerios, said differences were not the reason for the delays. She said her ministry had paid the costs for the Red Cross shipment.
On 22 August, the secretary-general of the Eritrean Red Cross Society, Alganesh Kidane, said some of the delayed food aid had began to reach its intended destination in Zoba Anseba, one of Eritrea's six administrative zones.
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