Eritrea emerged from its long war of independence in 1993 only to plunge once again into military conflict, first with Yemen and then, more devastatingly, with its old adversary, Ethiopia.
Today, a fragile peace prevails and Eritrea faces the gigantic tasks of rebuilding its infrastructure and of developing its economy after more than 30 years of fighting.
A former Italian colony, Eritrea was occupied by the British in 1941. In 1952 the United Nations resolved to establish it as an autonomous entity federated with Ethiopia as a compromise between Ethiopian claims for sovereignty and Eritrean aspirations for independence. However, 10 years later the Ethiopian emperor, Haile Selassie, decided to annex it, triggering a 32-year armed struggle.
This culminated in independence after an alliance of the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF) and a coalition of Ethiopian resistance movements defeated Haile Selassie's communist successor, Mengistu Haile Mariam.
At a glance
- Politics: The government has been accused of repression and of hindering the development of democracy
- Economy: Eritrea is said to be on the brink of a mining boom; it is heavily dependent on earnings of the diaspora
- International: Eritrea and Ethiopia remain in dispute after their 1998-2000 border war; in 2009 the UN imposed sanctions on Eritrea after accusing it of backing anti-Ethiopian Islamist insurgents in Somalia
Country profiles compiled by BBC Monitoring
In 1993, in a referendum supported by Ethiopia, Eritreans voted almost unanimously for independence, leaving Ethiopia landlocked.
The two countries hardly became good neighbours, with the issues of Ethiopian access to the Eritrean ports of Massawa and Assab and unequal trade terms souring relations.
In 1998 border disputes around the town of Badme erupted into open hostilities. This conflict ended with a peace deal in June 2000, but not before leaving both sides with tens of thousands of soldiers dead. A security zone separates the two countries. The UN patrolled the zone at one time but pulled out, unable to fulfil its mandate.
The unresolved border issue compounds other problems, including what the United Nations has termed chronic food insecurity as a result of the semi-arid climate, periodic drought and poverty.
A 2011 UN report estimated that about 70% of Eritreans cannot meet their food needs on their own. The government insists Eritrea is self-sufficient in food and declines international food aid.
Economic progress is also hampered by the proportion of Eritreans who are in the army rather than the workforce.