Italy's PM heads to Eritrea to pursue 'rapport' with leader

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Italy's prime minister is visiting Eritrea to support its surprising new peace with neighboring Ethiopia as the world waits to see what happens next in one of the world's most closed-off nations.

Premier Giuseppe Conte says Friday's visit is aimed at backing the peace process, not to make any specific requests. Eritrea is a major source of migrants heading toward Europe, with over 7,000 arriving in Italy last year. Arrivals have dropped to just above 3,000 this year.

Conte says that "it is important that also the Western world creates a rapport with the Eritrean president."

Eritrea's information minister says Conte will discuss bilateral cooperation and "international matters of mutual interest" with longtime President Isaias Afwerki.

Interest is growing in the country and its strategic location on the Red Sea.