Eritrea says Amnesty plotting unrest
Addis Ababa - Eritrea, the Red Sea state often criticised for alleged human rights abuses, has accused rights group Amnesty International of plotting to incite popular unrest, similar to uprisings seen in the Middle East.
Amnesty International denied the charges as "completely unfounded and ludicrous".
In a "top secret" document Asmara said had been in the possession of Amnesty International members assigned to infiltrate into Eritrea before falling into the hands of the government, the watchdog apparently instructed members to meet contacts by night and use "cameras that seemingly appear as earphones of mobile telephones".
"The purpose of your mission is to incite and co-ordinate massive popular uprising against the Eritrean government similar to that witnessed in countries like Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria by December this year at the latest," Eritrea's Information Ministry website said late on Thursday, citing the document.
Members were also told to contact a "Ms Konknakian", who posed as a Catholic nun in the country.
Amnesty said it did not have any staff operating in the secretive Red Sea state.
"We have no staff in Asmara and nor have any staff visited for more than a decade," London-based Claire Beston, Amnesty's Ethiopia/Eritrea researcher, told Reuters.
Amnesty says Eritrea is guilty of serious human rights concerns, from the incommunicado detention of prisoners of conscience to persecution of minority faith groups.
Beston said because of the situation in Eritrea, most of the rights group's research is conducted through refugees.
"Because of the situation in the country we don't communicate with people inside the country because of fears of reprisals to them," Beston said.
Asmara routinely rejects accusations of abuse, and allegations are difficult to verify as foreigners are often confined within the vicinity of the capital and no independent press exists.
"The foregoing material by the so-called 'Amnesty International' group is taken from a document compiled as so-called 'top secret' in the possession of its members assigned to infiltrate into Eritrea," the website added.
The Information Ministry said it would follow up with more details soon.
Asmara detained four British sailors for six months earlier this year and accused them of terrorism, espionage and using one of its islands as a depot for weapons. The group was released in July.
Eritrea has also placed restrictions on foreign humanitarian organisations, accusing them of trying to tarnish the country's image by inventing statistics.
Aid workers say the country could be facing a drought as extreme as those elsewhere in the region, where more than 13 million are affected.
Thousands of men and women aged 15 to 45 cross Eritrea's borders with Sudan and Ethiopia each year citing unlimited conscription and rights violations, despite the government's "shoot to kill" policy against those attempting to flee the country, according to watchdogs.