Somalia continues to implode, as Islamists gain increasing control over what remains of the impoverished, conflict-ridden nation. But it is not the only human tragedy in the region. Eritrea, which won its independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after decades of war, has earned a reputation as one of the world's youngest tyrannies. It also is one of the world's worst religious persecutors.

Eritrea poses an early challenge to the Obama administration. Border disputes with Ethiopia continue to threaten to flare into combat. Moreover, U.S.-Eritrean relations deteriorated steadily during the Bush years, as Asmara banned operations by the U.S. Agency for International Development and Washington imposed an arms embargo because of Eritrea's weapons shipments to next door Somalia. Eritrean President Isaias Afeworki now has approached the Obama administration lobbying for a change in U.S. policy — expressing his hope in his congratulatory letter to Obama on his election that the U.S. will now "advance the cause of regional peace, justice and legality" — but Washington should make Eritrea's atrocious record of religious persecution part of any dialogue.



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