Oct 23 (Reuters) 2009

Eritrea’s president Isaias Afwerki spoke to Reuters for more than an hour on Wednesday 21 – Oct – 2009 in a scenic safe house on the outskirts of the capital, Asmara.

Following are key quotes:

ECONOMY:

* “It may take decades to really evaluate achievements in food security, migrating from rain-fed agriculture into irrigated agriculture, introducing the most advanced technologies, transforming and changing the systems that have been in place for so long. It is a very difficult task.”

* On mixed economic assessment from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – “They make judgments on very limited knowledge and the government of Eritrea has been very skeptical all along of comments, judgments, suggestions that come from the IMF. I personally don’t take them seriously.”

GOLD MINING HOPES:

* “I personally don’t think that gold is going to change much in the performance of the economy. It is a distortion about the future.”

“(Gold) is not a resource that will dramatically change the quality of life in this country.”

“It would be very damaging to expect improvement in the economy because we are mining gold. I have never entertained that idea.”

AID ORGANISATIONS AND SPECIAL INTEREST GROUPS:

* “(Crisis response is) money making for them. It’s not solving problems. It’s a collaboration of domestically corrupt special interest groups with international mafia that have a big interest in publicising hunger and other crises.”

UNITED STATES:

* Obama government – “It’s too soon to make a judgment.”

* Diplomatic relations – “Why would they bother (to contact us)? We are a very small country and they are a superpower. We cannot expect the United States to bother about Eritrea.”

SOMALIA:

* “It is not an option to impose a government from outside in Mogadishu and declare that government to be a government of all Somalia. You cannot impose a peacekeeping force in one city and say there is a government.”

* “For the parties who are a part of the problem to come with the solution is unthinkable. The experience of the last 20 years is proof to that.”

* “The United States (and others) getting involved in Somalia because of what they call terrorism is a problem. In Somalia it is distorting the facts on the ground and probably fueling undesired external intervention from neighbouring countries.”

* “All these accusations (about Eritrea destabilising Somalia) have nothing to do with the reality on the ground. It’s a joke.”

ON WESTERN INTELLIGENCE AGENCIES AND ACCUSATIONS:

* “It is sometimes very perplexing for me. Why all these lies? Why do you have to go and cook such statistics and make statements about the reality in Eritrea when you don’t even know what’s going on in this country?

* “Why these accusations about Eritrea’s role in this region when there is no fact to prove what is being claimed?

THOUSANDS FLEEING ERITREA:

* “They will come back. They are going for a picnic. They will come back one day.”

ALLEGED ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT IN AUGUST:

* “It’s a fantasy. It’s an insanity . I have never worried.”

LOOMING SANCTIONS:

* “If you have evidence come up and show me . It’s not a matter of worrying or not worrying, scared or not scared, that’s a different matter. We need to talk about facts.”

PRESS FREEDOM:

* “You can no longer persuade people that there is freedom of press (anywhere in the world).”

ON DISSIDENCE:

“I don’t need someone to tell me when I make a mistake. This is my politically culture. I don’t expect anyone to come and tell me I have made a mistake. I don’t need anyone to bully me and push me around to correct my mistake.

DEMOCRACY IN ERITREA:

* “I have never said this is a successful democracy (because democracy has so many definitions).”

* “We are trying to build the foundations for a viable nation, and when we do we allow every constructive citizen to contribute in a meaningful way with whatever resources he has.”

LEADERSHIP AFTER ISAIAS:

*”Only someone with supernatural powers knows that.” (Reporting by Jeremy Clarke)