ERITREA'S RECENT PAST

* Italy colonized Eritrea in 1890. In 1952, the United Nations resolved to federate Eritrea with Ethiopia, despite Eritrean demands for independence. In 1962, the landlocked Ethiopia moved to swallow up Eritrea in order to gain its coveted coastline.

Throughout the protracted 30-year war of independence, the strategic Red Sea territory - dubbed the Middle East's ``southern flank'' - served as a cold war battlefield of dizzying political turnabouts that helped shape the Eritreans' deep-seated wariness of would-be foreign benefactors.

The United States and the Soviet Union, which backed successive Ethiopian regimes against the Eritrean nationalists, pumped more than $12 billion in arms into the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

Washington gave Addis Ababa more than half its total aid to Africa from 1952 to 1976, including the first supersonic jet fighters on the continent.

Eritrea gained its formal independence from Ethiopia May 24, 1993, two years after the fighting stopped, in a UN-monitored referendum in which 99.8 percent of the voters opted for sovereignty.

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