The Ethiopian military government has ordered the United States and five other countries to close their consulates in Asmara, the capital of wartorn Eritrea Province in northern Ethiopia.
U.S. officials said today that the consulate in Asmara was included in the Ethiopian order yesterday that also closed U.S. cultural and military facilities here, leaving only the embassy and the office of the U.S. Agency for International Development in operation.
The Marxist military government did not mention the U.S. consulates in its announcement today that consulates of SUday, Italy, France, Belgium and Britain are being closed.
One effect of the measures will be to remove practically all foreigners, other than a few Italian residents, from the sensitive Eritrean provincial capital. Eritrea is the scence of intense fighting between government forces and guerrillas of the separatist Eritrean Liberation Front.
The State Department said that the Ethiopian government has relented on its Saturday order that U.S. officials at the closed facilities leave Ethiopia within four days.
["We asked for an extension and we told that time would not be a problem on the withdrawl and that there would be no pressure to meet fht four-day deadline," a spokemam said. "We were also told we would have access to our affected facilities and that security would be provided wherever requested."]
The decisions announced by the military government in the past two days lend weight to persistent reports here that it is intent on closing all Western cultural centers in Ethiopia and clampdown as well on the activities and travels of Western diplomats.
Even Western tourists are now suspect following government allegations that two black Americans arrested March 23 in northwestern Ethiopia had entered the country on tourist visas and were U.S. Central Intelligence Agency spies.
France, West Germany, Italy and Britain all have cultural centers here in the capital. No Eastern bloc countries do, however.
U.S. embassy officials here were busy today making arrangements for the evacuation of an estimated 100 military and civilian personnel and their 250 dependents affected by the closure of the five American organizations yesterday.
today, the U.S. cultural center, located on the heights of the city across from city hall, was guarded by half a dozen police and soliders who refused to allow any U.S diplomats to enter the premises.
"They told us no one was llowed in," said one center official who tried to get in.
No smiliar difficulties were reported at the downtown compound of the Military Assistance Advisory Group.
Other wise, the capital was calm with no sign of any anti-American demonstration being organizes as had been anticipated following yesterday's announcement.
The Americans affected by the closures are 46 military advisory personnel, six cultural center officers, 45 persons living in Asmara and 20 persons, working with the Naval research unit here in the capital.
Of the 45 Americans stationed in Asmara, 21 are civilian employees of Collin Radio International, which has a Pentagon contract to run the Kagnew communications station there. Another 14 workers at the facility are Navy personnel.
Many of the 350 Americans to be evacuated are reportedly planning to leave on regularly scheduled flights for Europe on Tuesday or Wednesday. The U.S. military was also reported to be arranging special chartered flights to fly out its personnel.