Eritrea won independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after a 30-year war, but has been plagued by repression at home and tense relations with its neighbours.
Bordered by Sudan, Ethiopia and Djibouti, it occupies a strategically important area in the Horn of Africa.
Tensions remained high across the closed and heavily-fortified border until 2018, when Ethiopia launched a surprise diplomatic initiative that formally ended the state of war between the two countries.
Eritrea is a one-party state and a highly-militarised society, which the government has sought to justify by citing the threat of war with Ethiopia.
Prolonged periods of conflict and severe drought have adversely affected Eritrea's agricultural economy, and it remains one of the poorest countries in Africa.
By UN estimates, hundreds of thousands of Eritreans have fled the country in recent years, making the perilous journey across the Sahara and the Mediterranean to Europe.
President: Isaias Afwerki
President Isaias Afwerki has governed Eritrea since it became an independent country in 1993. His People's Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDF) is the sole political party.
Presidential elections planned for 1997 never took place, and a constitution ratified in the same year has never been implemented.
In 1966 he joined the fight for independence from Ethiopia, and went on to found and later lead the Eritrean People's Liberation Front. He became head of the provisional government in 1991, when the Front defeated the forces of the Marxist Ethiopian government.
Following the 1993 referendum vote for independence, he was elected president and chairman of parliament, giving him control of both the executive and legislative branches of government.
Media beyond the state-sanctioned newspapers and broadcasters are non-existent.
Outlets run by Eritreans overseas provide alternative sources of news but their reach is limited, not least because of very low levels of internet access.
Some key dates in Eritrea's history:
300-600 - Present-day Eritrea forms part of the kingdom of Aksum.
1889-1941 - Italy colonises Eritrea.
1941-52 - British forces take over.
1952 - UN establishes Eritrea as an autonomous region within Ethiopia.
1962 - Ethiopia annexes Eritrea, giving impetus to the independence movement.
1991 - Eritrean People's Liberation Front wins war of independence, assisted by Ethiopian rebels.
1993 - Eritrea votes for independence from Ethiopia.
1997 - Democratic constitution is drawn up but never implemented.
1998-2000 - Border war with Ethiopia.
2018 - Ethiopia and Eritrea declare war is over. UN lifts sanctions.