Eritrea seizes control of Catholic-owned college

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The Eritrean government has seized control of a Catholic-owned technical school, sources have told the BBC.

The Hagaz Agro-Technical School is run by the LaSalle Brothers organisation and has been providing training in farm machinery, rearing of crops and animals, as well as soil conservation for the last 23 years.

The school is also known for producing Shalku wines, a drink made from grappa and jam. From its dairy cattle it produces yoghurt and cheeses.

Another Catholic-owned training college, the Don Bosco Technical School in Dekemhare, is set to be handed over to the government in September.

In 2019, the Eritrean government took control of secondary schools and health facilities run by religious bodies across the country.

The government cited a regulation passed in 1995 that limited the activities of religious institutions in the Horn of Africa nation.

Eritrean bishops objected to the regulation, arguing that the church’s social services did not act in opposition to the government.

The Catholic Bishops Conference of Eritrea wrote to the Eritrean government, saying “the Church’s life is connected with the service of the people”.

The bishops have repeatedly called on the Eritrean government to nurture an inclusive democracy and end authoritarian tactics.

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Many analysts believe the latest seizures are a retaliation for the Catholic Church’s call for reforms in the one-party state.

Roman Catholics make up about 4% of Eritrea’s population.

The church is one of only four religious groups allowed to operate in the country, along with the Eritrean Orthodox, Evangelical Lutheran, and Sunni Islam groups.

Other religious groups are viewed by the government as foreign agents.

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