Isaias Afewerki says detained British nationals possessed arms

May 2, 2011

The London-based newspaper The Sun reported last month the four were seized by Eritrea’s navy. Another two had escaped by boat, the paper added.

“They possessed countless amounts of arms, including sniper rifles. If you come to my house with a gun, don’t I have the right to defend myself?” Isaias said in an interview with the state-run Eri TV.

The Eritrean leader did not say whether the group would be charged or whether their embassy would be granted consular access to them.

British authorities say Asmara has not given any information on the group’s whereabouts. Foreign Minister Henry Bellingham warned earlier this month Britain was ready to take ‘robust action’ if Eritrea remained silent.

Bellingham said consular access to check on the men’s welfare should have been granted within 48 hours under the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations, signed by both Britain and Eritrea.

“They should ask what they were doing in our territory. They are citing the … convention when our laws were violated,” Isaias said.

Eritrea is one of the world’s most secretive nations and has frosty relations with a number of western countries as well as most of its neighbours, having been involved in border disputes with Ethiopia and Djibouti.

Britain has in the past called for “punishment” of Asmara for its alleged support of Islamist insurgents in Somalia. The United Nations imposed sanctions on Eritrea in late 2009.