Eritrean army tanks besieged the information ministry in central Asmara on Monday after some 200 mutineers seized the building to call for political reform, diplomatic and diaspora sources said Monday.
No shots had been fired and the rest of the city appeared calm, the diplomats added, although very few details were immediately available.
There was no immediate indication it was an attempt to overthrow the government of Eritrea, which has been led by Isaias Afewerki, 66, for some two decades since it broke away from bigger neighbour Ethiopia.
The renegade soldiers forced the director of state television to make an announcement, the Eritrean intelligence official said.
“The soldiers have forced him to speak on state TV, to say the Eritrean government should release all political prisoners,” a source told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
There was no immediate official comment.
Amanuel Ghirmai, an Eritrean journalist in Paris for the opposition Radio Erena, said that around a 100 army mutineers stormed the hill-top ministry -- which towers over the capital of the Red Sea state -- early on Monday morning.
They reportedly ordered news readers at the government-run television and radio station -- the only source of media for the authoritarian state -- to read a statement that they will implement the country’s constitution.
The statement also reportedly ordered the release of prisoners of conscience.
“We do not know who is leading the situation... everybody has been put into the same room (in the ministry),” he said, adding that he had spoken to sources in Asmara.
The reports were not possible to confirm independently.
However, Eritrean expatriates who had spoken to compatriots in Asmara said they could confirm reports that troops had been deployed at the information ministry, and that state television Eri-TV had stopped broadcasting, they told AFP.
All Eritrea’s public media are recorded and broadcast from the ministry.
“The local transmission has been cut, the only satellite signal is airing some archives,” Amanuel added.
Afeworki has ruled the Horn of Africa nation with an iron grip from independence in 1993, following an epic 30-year liberation war from neighboring Ethiopia.
The United Nations last year estimated that 5,000-10,000 political prisoners were being held in the secretive Horn of Africa country, which is accused by human rights groups of carrying out torture and summary executions.
The gold-producing is also one of the most opaque countries on the continent and it restricts access to foreign reporters.
Eritrean opposition activists exiled in neighboring Ethiopia said there was growing dissent within the Eritrean military especially over economic hardships.
“Economic issues have worsened and have worsened relations between the government and soldiers in the past few weeks and months,” one activist told Reuters.