by Martin Plaut

It began with Eritrea. The Ministry of Information accused Ethiopia and Sudan of agreeing to extend support to "Eritrean armed opposition groups." [See below]

Now Ethiopia has responded, with a denial. Meles Alem, Spokesperson for Ethiopia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs described the accusation as "baseless." [See below]

This is not the first time such accusations have been traded. We will have to wait to see whether they signify anything.

Statement from Eritrea Ministry of Information

In the past two weeks during the visit of the new Prime Minister of the Federal Republic of Ethiopia to the Sudan, both governments have reportedly agreed “to extend support to what they termed as Eritrea’s armed opposition groups in order to enable them to properly execute their objectives”.

To this end, both governments “have agreed to provide these groups with material support inside their respective borders as well as to extend to them requisite facilities for enhancing their free and unhindered, cross-border, movements in the two countries”.

To ensure the effective coordination of these operations, the Ethiopian side has appointed the Consul in its Embassy in Khartoum, a certain Mr. Burhan, who has also been acting as the principal supervisor of the operations of Qatari funded Jihadist groups.  The Sudan has similarly appointed General Hamid Al-Mustafa, as a counterpart for the Ethiopian appointee, for the coordination task.

This scheme, launched at a time of intense and pretentious PR campaigns, is in essence, neither new nor surprising.  We hardly need to emphasize its futility.

Ministry of Information
14 May 2018

Story from Xhinua

Ethiopia denies accusations by Eritrea of supporting rebel movement
Source: Xinhua   2018-05-20 18:38:32  
 ADDIS ABABA, May 20 (Xinhua) -- The Ethiopia Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) said on Sunday accusations by Eritrea of its supporting Eritrean rebel movements as "baseless."

The Eritrea Ministry of Information (MoI) issued a press statement on Wednesday accusing neighboring nations, Sudan and Ethiopia, of conspiring to support Eritrean rebel groups.

The statement from Eritrea further said Ethiopia and Sudan have agreed to deploy Eritrean armed opposition groups along the two countries' borders with Eritrea to facilitate hit and run attacks on the Red Sea nation.

Speaking exclusively to Xinhua, Meles Alem, Spokesperson of Ethiopia Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA), said the allegations by Eritrea that Ethiopia is working together with Sudan to support Eritrean rebel movements are totally false.

He further said Ethiopia's offer to have unconditional negotiation and dialogue with Eritrea still stands despite the two countries' current bitter standoff.

Eritrea and its southern neighbor Ethiopia fought a blood border war from 1998 to 2000, which killed an estimated 70,000 people.

Since then, the two countries have been engaged in a state of armed standoff along their common border punctuated occasionally by sporadic small-scale clashes.

Eritrea has tense relationship with its eastern neighbor Sudan, with both countries accusing each other of supporting rival rebel groups.


Eritreans protest in Bern against tough new asylum rules
Protesters carried banners with messages such as “Eritrea is one huge prison”. Photo:
14:27 CEST+02:00
Over a thousand Eritreans protested outside the Swiss national parliament on Friday against tough new rules that could see as many as 3,200 people returned to the autocratic African country.

After the demonstration, which Swiss People's Party politician Natalie Rickli filmed on her mobile phone, protesters handed authorities a petition signed by 12,000 people and addressed to Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga. The document called for the increasingly tough asylum rules targeting the group to be relaxed.


Friday’s protest comes after Bern announced in April it planned to review the status of 3,200 of the 9,400 Eritreans granted temporary residence in Switzerland.

That decision came after the Federal Administrative Court ruled in August last year that it was reasonable to return Eritrean citizens who had already previously performed military service to the African country as they were unlikely either to be required to re-join the military or to face other punishment.

Read also: Switzerland's tough stance on migrants criticised by Amnesty International 

Swiss authorities stressed in April that all people affected by the new rule changes would have the right to a judicial hearing and that cases would be dealt with on an individual basis.

But on Friday, protesters carried banners with messages such as “Eritrea is one huge prison”, “Stop negotiations with the dictator” and “We did not flee for fun”.

Annelies Djiellal-Müller, one of the organisers of Friday’s protest, stressed that the act of returning to Eritrea was highly dangerous. She told Swiss daily Der Bund that all people who left the country did so illegally, risking being shot when they did so then facing a dangerous journey to Europe across the Sahara Desert.


When people did choose to return, the Eritrean embassy then demanded the names of family members and friends. Once back in Eritrea, returnees faced possible punishment for having left the country illegally.

“Would you take that risk for yourself and your loved ones?” Djiellal-Müller said.

Switzerland currently has no treaty with Eritrea regarding the return of migrants but State Secretary for Migration Mario Gattiker said in April that this did not mean such returns were not possible.

Switzerland only has a returns treaty with every second country, he said, and while Eritrea does not accept the forced return of migrants, voluntary returns were possible, he told Switzerland’s Le Temps newspaper.


The New Scramble for the Horn of Africa

%PM, %15 %541 %2018 %14:%May Written by

by Martin Plaut


New Scramble for the Horn


The New Scramble for Africa

Source: Critical Threats, American Enterprise Institute

[Note: the American bases are not shown]

The modern scramble for Africa is intensifying.

A sharp uptick in the expansion of foreign militaries in the Horn of Africa accompanied the growth of economic competition in the region in 2017. China, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates have opened military bases throughout the area in the past two years. The region is strategically important to these states for various reasons: securing shipping routes in the Bab al Mandab Strait, proximity to the ongoing conflict in Yemen, and the desire to array forces in the region alongside rivals including the United States.

  • China has concentrated its military presence in Djibouti near American and other Western forces.
  • The competition between the United Arab Emirates and Turkey in the Horn of Africa has yielded mixed results in Somalia. The Somali Federal Government (SFG) has received significant counterterrorism training support from both nations, as well as humanitarian aid from Turkey. The competition has strained relations between the SFG and Somalia's semi-autonomous regions, however. Somali President Mohammed Abdullahi Farmajo rejected the legitimacy of a 30-year Emirati contract on the port of Berberain Somaliland, for example.[1]
  • The 2017 crisis between Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE exacerbated tensions between Somaliland and President Farmajo after the semi-autonomous government of Somaliland supported the boycott of Qatar, while the SFG remained neutral in the conflict.[2]

Emirati operations in Yemen relied originally on basing in Djibouti. The UAE invested heavily in Eritrea beginning in mid-2015.[3]The Emirati military now operates from the Assab base in Eritrea and smaller outposts on the Yemeni islands of Socotra and Perim. The UAE is also expanding its presence into Somaliland at the port of Berbera.[4]

  • In 2008, Djibouti agreed to lease the Doraleh Container Port to Dubai-based company DP World.[5]
  • The UAE and Saudi Arabia leased a base in the Haramous district of Djibouti City in April 2015 to support operations during the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen.
  • On April 28, 2015, the UAE and Djibouti broke diplomatic relations due to a conflict between Emirati officials and the chief of Djibouti’s Air Force over the lease and after an Emirati plane landed at Djibouti’s Ambouli International Airport without authorization.[6]
    • Longstanding strained relations exacerbated tensions between the two countries after Djibouti prematurely rescinded a 20-year agreement with Dubai’s DP World to run the Doraleh Container Terminal in 2014.[7]
    • Djibouti ordered the eviction of UAE and Saudi troops from the country the following day.
  • On April 29, 2015, as Djibouti evicted Emirati troops, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz met with Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki to finalize a 30-year agreement to base Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) operations in Yemen out of Eritrea.[8]The UAE conducted a heavy military buildup at the Assab base in Eritrea in May-July 2015. The UAE also undertook significant infrastructure developments at Assab, including the addition of new deep-water port facilities next to the airfield, the construction of a pier, the expansion of the airfield’s tarmac space and air traffic control system, and the rerouting of major highways and security perimeters around the base.
  • The UAE launched operations from Assab to retake Aden, Yemen in August 2015.
  • Emirati forces have also used the Assab base to train and equip thousands of Yemeni counterterrorism forces.[9]

The UAE opened a military training center in Mogadishu in May 2015.[10]

  • UAE Special Forces fund and operate the base with the goal of training a brigade of Somali National Army soldiers to combat al Shabaab.[11]The facility and training program remain operational.[12]
  • The UAE signed a 30-year lease on the Port of Berbera in Somaliland in February 2017. The base remains under construction, but Emirati ships have docked at the port. Emirati forces are using it to support operations in Yemen.[13]The Yemeni al Houthi movement threatened to strike the Berbera port with ballistic missiles in December 2017.[14]
  • Somali President Farmajo called for the cancellation of the Berbera contract in February 2017.[15]
  • The UAE has funded police and intelligence operations in Puntland and Somaliland.[16]
  • The UAE also took over the management and development of the Boosaaso port in the semi-autonomous Puntland state in October 2017.[17]

The UAE confirmed the presence of its military forces on the Yemeni island of Socotrain May 2017.[18]

  • President Hadi reportedly leased the islands of Socotra and nearby Perim and Abd al Kuri (part of the Socotra archipelago) to the UAE for 99 years before abdicating his position in 2014.[19]
  • The UAE does not appear to be using Socotra to support operations in Yemen. It has only trained soldiers on the island thus far.[20]
  • The UAE also is reportedly building an airstrip and related support facilities on Perim Island to support its operations in southern Yemen.[21]The UAE has not yet established a presence Abd al Kuri.

China opened its first overseas military base in Djibouti’s Gulf of Tadjouraon August 1, 2017.[22]

  • China had used the port in Djibouti since February 2015 but negotiated permission for construction of a permanent military base with President Ismail Omar Guelleh in early 2015.[23]The Chinese began construction on the base in early 2016 and completed construction in July 2017. Djibouti is attractive for numerous reasons, including its proximity to key shipping lanes through the Bab al Mandab Strait and the Suez Canal.Djibouti is attractive for numerous reasons, including its proximity to key shipping lanes through the Bab al Mandab Strait and the Suez Canal.Additionally, China’s new presence in Djibouti alongside major Western powers such as the United States, France, Spain, and Italy indicates its intent of maintaining military capabilities with global reach.
  • The current agreement ensures China’s right to maintain up to 10,000 soldiers in Djibouti through 2025.[24]Approximately 1,000 personnel currently staff the base.[25]
  • China has previously invested heavily in Djiboutian infrastructure, funding upgrades to ports and airports and financing 70% of the Addis Ababa-Djibouti railway.[26]
  • China claims that the base will be used to support blue-helmeted peacekeepers and humanitarian operations in Africa, as well as anti-piracy efforts in the Gulf of Aden. China will also likely use the base to protect its economic interests in the region and ensure safe shipping between East Africa and China.[27]
    • China has approximately 2,200 personnel deployed in Africa and 500 others in the Middle East.[28]
    • China claims to have escorted more than 6,000 ships through the Gulf of Aden.[29]

Turkey opened its largest overseas military base in Mogadishuon September 30, 2017.[30]

  • The Turkish military began construction on the base in 2015.
  • Turkey has announced its intention to use the base to train 10,000 Somali soldiers. The base reportedly has the capacity to train 1,500 personnel at a time.[31]
  • Turkey claims that it intends to maintain only 200 troops at the base, but a Turkish official clarified that the opening of the base aligns with Turkey’s prioritization of weapons sales to new markets.[32]
  • Turkey has previously cultivated a strong relationship with Somalia through a combination of direct investment and humanitarian aid.
  • Turkey’s only other operational foreign military base is in Qatar, which houses approximately 5,000 Turkish troops.[33]

Sudan signed an agreement on December 26, 2017 to transfer responsibility for Suakin Islandin the Red Sea to Turkey.[34]

  • Turkey has stated its intent to build a naval dock on the island to support both military and commercial vessels, stating that the agreement “could result in any kind of military cooperation.”[35]
  • The agreement prompted Egypt to deploy hundreds of troops, additional weapons, and military transport vehicles to the Sawa military base in Eritrea.[36]Sudan responded by deploying thousands of troops to the border region of Kassala. Ethiopia similarly sent additional troops to the Eritrean border.[37]The Suakin Island agreement followed decades of disagreement between Sudan and Egypt over the Halaib Triangle border region.[38]

Watch how the new scramble for Africa has developed since 2010:

A military armoured personnel carrier patrols during the opening ceremony of the new Turkish embassy in Abdiazizi district of Somalia's capital Mogadishu, June 3, 2016. REUTERS/Feisal Omar

September 26, 2017

The Gulf Contest for the Horn of Africa

Effects of the Qatar crisis have not been contained to the Gulf. The crisis has diplomatic and financial implications for states in the Horn of Africa, where we have observed a competition for influence among the Gulf States and Turkey. Saudi Arabia and the UAE see the Horn of Africa as a strategic opportunity to enhance their capabilities in the Gulf of Aden to support operations in Yemen. Turkey diverges from Saudi Arabia and the UAE in its Horn of Africa priorities: instead of expanding its military presence in the region, Turkey’s strategy involves a combination of heavy investments and commercial contracts, hoping to boost its economic competitiveness in the region. Qatar has largely aligned with Turkey and prioritized a humanitarian response to the drought in Somalia. Long-term, all four countries are looking to counter Iran’s intent to expand its naval capabilities in the region.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt cut formal ties with Qatar on June 5, 2017, resulting in the withdrawal of ambassadors and bans on trade and travel. Saudi Arabia also expelled Qatar’s contingent from the coalition fighting in Yemen. The conflict has bolstered relations between Qatar and Turkey, which has responded to the crisis by providing food aid and recommitting to providing Qatar with increased Turkish military presence.[1]Saudi Arabia originally presented Qatar with a list of thirteen demands, including ending diplomatic and military ties with Iran, cutting ties to all terror organizations, and shutting down Al Jazeera. The list has since been shortened to six demands, but mediation efforts by the US and Kuwait have made no progress in ending the dispute.[2]

Implications for Somalia

Somalia’s strategic location and complex ties with Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states placed Somalia at the center of negotiations, with both sides in the Qatar conflict persuading the nation to abandon its neutral stance.[3]

Qatar and Turkey can leverage political ties and substantial humanitarian aid commitments to pressure Somalia to maintain its neutral stance. 

  • Qatar maintains close ties with Somali President Farmajo, whose chief of staff previously worked on his campaign as a liaison with Qatar.[4]The United Nations Monitoring Group on Somalia has previously accused Qatar of influencing Somali electoral outcomes through its financing of preferred candidates. Qatar has subsequently lobbied these government officials to support policies that increase Qatar’s commercial competitiveness in Somalia.[5]
  • Both Turkey and Qatar have had long-term commitments to humanitarian aid in Somalia and have increased their support in recent months in response to the drought.[6]
  • Qatar has attempted to hold talks between Gulf States and Somalia, where it encouraged Somalia to maintain its neutrality in the Qatar conflict.[7]Turkey has also been in talks with UAE and Saudi officials, advocating for an end to the embargo on Qatar before the end of Ramadan (which did not occur).[8]Somali officials, however, remain committed to neutrality in the conflict.[9]Somali’s federal government recently criticized the semiautonomous regions of Galmudug, Puntland, and Hirshabelle for cutting ties with Qatar.[10]

The Saudis are leveraging financial aid to pressure Somalia to cut ties with Qatar.

  • Saudi Arabia pledged $50 million in aid to Somalia in January 2017 on the same day the Somali government announced it was cutting ties with Iran.[11]
  • Saudi Arabia offered $80 million to Somalia on June 11 in an attempt to persuade the country to dissolve diplomatic relations with Qatar and reportedly warned Farmajo that it may withdraw all financial aid if Somalia maintains neutrality in the conflict.[12]

The UAE could leverage commercial contracts to influence Somalia’s stance, but it is unlikely to hold much weight as Farmajo already disapproves of the contracts with Somaliland and Puntland. The UAE is more likely to withhold support for Somali defense entities.

  • The UAE recalled its ambassador to Somalia and reportedly deported Somali citizens as public disapproval of Somalia’s neutral stance in the Qatar conflict.[13]
  • The UAE opened a new training center in Mogadishu to train Somalia’s counterterrorism forces in May 2015. It has also provided armored vehicles to Somali forces and pledged in October 2015 to pay Somalia National Army (SNA) salaries.[14]The UAE has no official military presence on the base.

Saudi and Emirati influence secured support from northern Somalia.

  • Both Somaliland and Puntland announced support for the UAE and Saudi Arabia. On June 10, the Government of the Republic of Somaliland issued a resolution in support of the UAE and Saudi Arabia and assertion of its independence from Somalia.[15]Somaliland’s stance might only exacerbate tensions between the Emiratis and Farmajo, who rejects the legitimacy of the contracts. The Puntland administration announced on August 16 that it supported the UAE and Saudi Arabia, and it called on the Somali Federal Government to reconsider its neutral stance.[16]
  • The UAE operates in the Puntland region of Somalia through funding the Puntland Maritime Police Force and Puntland Intelligence Agency.[17]Former Somali Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid of Puntland has been a strong advocate for Somalia to cut ties with Qatar.[18]
  • The Somaliland parliament approved an agreement with the UAE to establish a base in the port of Berbera in February 2017.[19]The base is still under construction, but UAE ships have docked at the port and reportedly intend to use the base for air support in Yemen.[20]
  • Dubai-based port developer DP World has signed contracts to manage the commercial ports in Berbera and Boosaaso Port in the Puntland region.[21]Somali President Farmajo has publicly shown disapproval for the contract with Somaliland and Somali MPs have introduced parliamentary motions against the Berbera Port agreement.[22]

Broader contest for influence in the Horn

Saudi Arabia and the UAE

The two states' presence in the Horn of Africa indicates broader shifts in their strategic goals. Saudi Arabia prioritizes countering the Iranian-backed al Houthis in Yemen and setting conditions to declare victory and end the war. The UAE has used the collapse of the Yemeni state and the war to project its influence further into the Gulf of Aden.

  • The UAE reportedly warned Saudi Arabia to abandon its support for Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadior the UAE will abandon the coalition.[23]Relations between the two states are strained by a combination of UAE skepticism toward prospects of a military victory and the UAE’s aversion to political Islamists in the north.[24]These tensions were bolstered by former governor of Aden Aydarus al Zubaidi’s attempted declaration of southern independence, as the UAE has been accused of secretly supporting the secessionist movement.[25]
  • The forced departure of Qatari troops from Yemen could further hinder Saudi progress in Yemen.[26]
  • Sudan’s proximity to the Red Sea is likely too far from the Bab al Mandab for GCC states to see Sudan as worthy of maritime investments. However, GCC states are pursuing strategies in Sudan similar to those in the Horn: Saudi Arabia is prioritizing military aid, while Turkey focuses on humanitarian aid.
  • Sudan severed diplomatic relations with Iran in January 2016 after Iran executed a Saudi cleric.[27]A Saudi deposit of $1 billion into Sudan’s central bank further supports the conclusion that Sudan has shifted its support to the Arab states under Saudi Arabia. Remittances from hundreds of thousands of Sudanese living in Gulf States likely factored into Sudan’s change in position as well.[28]
  • Saudi Arabia has also looked to counter Iranian influence through military assistance. In February 2016 Saudi Arabia diverted military aid from Lebanon to Sudan, amounting to $5 billion.[29]

Saudi Arabia envisions Djibouti as the future center of its operations in the Horn of Africa.

  • Saudi Arabia has had access to Djiboutian airspace and the airfield at Camp Lemonier in Djibouti since October 2015 to support operations in Yemen.[30]
  • The Saudis announced in December 2016 their intentions to upgrade to a full military base there to act as a launching point for operations in Yemen and for interfering with Iranian attempts to supply Houthi forces.
  • Saudi Arabia likely chose Djibouti for its base in part due to the presence of other forces for the purpose of power projection, and as preemptive assertion against Iranian interests in the region.[31]
  • Djibouti has not cut ties with Qatar completely, but “downgraded” its relationship with Qatar, claiming “solidarity with the international coalition combating terrorism and extremist violence.”[32]

The UAE previously operated out of Eritrea, but shifted focus to new military projects in Somaliland.

  • The UAE began construction on the Port of Assab in eastern Eritrea in September 2015.

Semere T. Habtemariam

At the end of April 2018, Donald Yamamoto visited Eritrea, Djibouti and Ethiopia.He is the highest-ranking US diplomat to visit Eritrea in over a decade. Many things have changed in the region, but the one thing that had stayed the same is: the no-war-no-peace stalemate between Eritrea and Ethiopia. With the visible military presence of China in the region, the US finds the normalization of relations between Eritrea and Ethiopia important enough to embark on a new initiative. Yamamoto’s mission was to convey to both governments this new shift in US policy. Reliable sources have confirmed that he had succeeded in obtaining initial support to his initiative. Both governments have agreed in principle while reaffirming their 16-year old positions: demarcate first and then dialogue vs. dialogue first and then demarcate.

Although Yamamoto’s visit to the region was scheduled before the election of the new Prime Minister in Ethiopia, the mere coincidence has given the impression that the change in Ethiopia is beyond a change of personality, but a shift in policy. In his inaugural speech, Prime Minister Abiye Ahmed has said, “we want from the bottom of our hearts that the disagreement that has reigned for years to come to an end,” and urged, “the Eritrean government to take the same stand.”

Actions speak louder than words and the Ethiopian government, under the late Meles Zenawi and former Prime Minister Desalegn Haile Mariam have done nothing to resolve the impasse they’ve unliterary imposed on both countries. They did talk the talk, although, at times with open and veiled threats, inconsistency and equivocation. It should not be forgotten that in April 2003, Meles Zenawi had threatened to reject the ruling if adjustments were not made. On April 13, 2002, the Information Ministry of Ethiopia accused the Eritrean Ethiopian Boundary Commission (EEBC) of misinterpreting the December 2000 Algiers Agreement and the court’s ruling of April 13, 2002.

It is the hope of many that the new Prime Minister will take a new and refreshing initiative aiming at peace and the end of the no-peace-no-war stalemate. It shouldn’t be business as usual.Ethiopia has been playing the same song for the last 15 years but repeating the idea of dialogue often enough doesn’t make it a solution. There is no doubt that Eritrea will enter into a dialogue as soon as the previously agreed decisions are upheld by Ethiopia. Logic dictates so, and so does the EEBC verdict. It is true that Eritrea has also not changed its position since 2003 when the EEBC gave its “final and binding” verdict, but, it cannot be emphasized enough that Eritrea is on the right side of the law; and hence it cannot be held directly responsible for the impasse.

The Eritrean government’s mediocre response to Ethiopia’s diplomacy should not be confused with wrong-doing. Based on the Commission’s interpretation, Eritrea’s position is right; and Ethiopia’s position is wrong. Eritrea has fully complied with the EEBC’s ruling and Ethiopia has not. These are the facts.

The question is: Can Ethiopia and Eritrea dialogue while demarcating and demarcate while dialoguing? In a culture where intransigence is often confused with steadfastness, how does Yamamoto proceed?

Background To The Algiers Agreement:

In 1991, two allied organizations, the Eritrean Peoples’ Liberation Front (EPLF) and the Tigrayan Peoples’ Liberation Front (TPLF), came to power in Eritrea and Ethiopia respectively. They had fought together to defeat the Mengistu regime;and this strategic military alliance became the basis of their bilateral relations between 1991 and 1998.The two leaders, Isaias Afeworki of Eritrea and Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, were the embodiment of this unprecedented comity. They travelled together on Meles’ plane; vacationed together in the Red Sea; and Meles had a vacation house in Asmera that is still known as “inda Meles” to this day. However, there was something unsettling about their friendship; it was characterized by mistrust and rivalry. And on May 6, 1998, the two leaders shocked the world when they risked everything and entered into Africa’s biggest and deadliest war.

It was a war of choice, and not necessity (1998-2000), that claimed over 70 thousands lives, millions of internally displaced people, the destruction of property worth in the billions, the deportation of 98 thousands Eritreans and Ethiopians of Eritrean origin, and the confiscation of their properties and businesses estimated in hundreds of millions of dollars. All these took place in just two years.

The world might not have understood the reasons that led to its sudden eruption, but it knew its cataclysmic effect. The US committed some of its top diplomats such as Susan Rice, Anthony Lake and the late Richard Holbrooke in mediating between the parties. President Clinton was personally responsible for brokering the air moratorium that helped avert the destruction of non-military, economic and development infrastructures.

On December 12, 2000, all became quieton the Zalembessa-Badme-Burie fronts when Eritrea and Ethiopia signed the Peace Agreement in Algiers, Algeria. This gave hope to a brighter future of cooperation and a possible restoration of a once promising cooperation between the two countries. This optimism was further reinforced when both countries accepted the Border Commission’s delimitation ruling in April 2002 and expressed their commitment to cooperate accordingly.

Peoples’ optimism, however, was short-lived when Ethiopia started to equivocate—proving that optimism and good will were predicated on the “in good faith” implementation of the Algiers Agreement.

Although Eritrea’s and Ethiopia’s stated policies (demarcate first and then dialogue vs. dialogue first and then demarcate) are not mutually exclusive, it cannot be emphasized enough that any peaceful resolutions of conflicts will be predicated on in-good-faith compliance to treaties, agreements, rulings, and international law by all member states.

When asked by Mo Ibrahim, in a conference held in Kigali, about the possibility of a new agreement between the warring parties in South Sudan, the former Prime Minister Haile Mariam rightfully responded, “Agreements are signed but never implemented. I don’t see that further (or) more agreements can be signed, but I don’t think it will be implemented as the history shows.”

Inadvertently, Haile Mariam has become the best advocate for Eritrea’s position.

The Algiers Agreement

The Algiers Agreement was the reaffirmation of the Organization of African Unity’s (OAU) Framework Agreement and the Modalities for its Implementation (July 1999) and the Agreement on the Cessation of Hostilities (June 2000). Towards this end, the Agreement established two neutral independent commissions:the Eritrean-Ethiopian Boundary Commission (EEBC) and the Eritrean-Ethiopian Claims Commission.

The EEBC was an independent impartial body appointed by the Secretary General of the OAU in consultation with his counterpart at the UN. It was mandated “to delimit and demarcate the colonial treaty border based on pertinent colonial treaties (1900, 1902 and 1908) and applicable international law” (Article 4:2).Although Article 38(2) of the Statue of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) allows the court to rule on the basis of “equitable criteria,” both countries failed to authorize the Commission to “have the power to make decisions ex aequo et bono (according to what is equitable and good).”

Both Eritrea and Ethiopia agreed on the decision to be “final and binding.”

The UN Cartographic Unit would provide technical expertise, serve as the EEBC’s Secretary and perform functions necessary for the Commission. The two countries agreed “to cooperate with the Commission, its experts and other staff in all respects during the process of delimitation and demarcation, including the facilitation of access to territory they control” (Article 4:14).

Eritrea and Ethiopia provided their claims and evidence to the Secretary. The Secretary, in turn, provided his findings to the EEBC by identifying those sections of the border that were not in dispute and when disagreements arose, the parties were allowed to submit additional evidence.

In 2003, the EEBC gave its final ruling on delimiting the border. It transmitted its ruling to both parties, the OAU and the UN, and was ready to demarcate. Ethiopia accepted the ruling “in principle” but refused to allow the EEBC to demarcate.

16 years later, no progress has been made.

The See-saw game:

The regimes in Eritrea and Ethiopia were/are mirror-image of each other. They’ve been through thick and thin together and share a lot in common. But beneath this veneer of commonalities lies a dangerous pathology that is making any attempt of reconciliation impossible. The author believes it is this “personalization” of the conflict that former Prime Minister Haile Mariam was complaining about in his talk with Mo Ibrahim. The TPLF thinks that the border conflict is a Tigrayan and Eritrean issue. Former Prime Minister Haile Mariam has reportedly said that the Eritrean-Ethiopian conflict is “yetigre guday ne; it is a Tigre affair.” Tigre is the name the Amhara use to refer to Eritreans and Tigrayans together.

Without delving into the etiology of the Eritrean-Ethiopian border war, it suffices to mention that Eritrea was responsible for the escalation of an otherwise small skirmish into a full-scale war. The Hague ruling has also shown that Ethiopia’s occupation of Badme, the flash-point of the war, is what led Eritrea to take action.

Soon after the war broke out, Eritrea came up with a peace proposal to resolve the conflict. Ethiopia saw Eritrea’s quick move as a confirmation of a dangerous pattern in Eritrea’s behavior of “shoot first and then talk.” As charcoal is to embers and as wood is to fire, so is a quarrelsome Eritrea for kindling strife. (Pr. 26:21)

According to Ethiopia, Eritrea was guilty of Jedwood justice where the alleged criminal is hung first and then tried afterwards. This is why Ethiopia, during the war, insisted on “negotiating while fighting and fighting while negotiating.”

Both Eritrea and Ethiopia have accepted and rejected the so many peace proposals, not on principle but on how well they thought they were doing militarily. They played see-saw with the lives of their own people.

Can Ethiopia now dialogue while demarcating and demarcate while dialoguing?

Eritrea Cannot Suppress its Pessimistic History with the World:

In less than 70 years, Eritrea has been twice short-changed by the UN, US and the international community. Many Eritreans are not fully convinced that the world will do the right thing if it means getting tough on Ethiopia.

The US’s past, one-dimensional obsession with fighting communism has been replaced by the new fight against the war on terror in the HOA. Ethiopia has taken advantage of this war by forging an alliance of convenience.

The Eritrean leaders and diplomats were caught napping; they could not rise up to the Ethiopian challenge. Ethiopia’s diplomatic savviness has totally eclipsed Eritrea’s diplomatic maneuvering. Ethiopia played a major role in the passage of the US-sponsored UN arms sanction against Eritrea for its alleged involvement in Somalia, but a UN panel of experts later found out no evidence to support the continuance of Eritrea’s alleged support.

Yamamoto could initiate lifting the sanctions on Eritrea; it would earn him credibility and good will from Eritrea and Eritreans.

The image of Eritrea that has emerged in the world is that of a hermetic nation that is hostile to outside influences. But Eritreans by geography, history, upbringing, and self-interest can’t be isolationists. Rightly or wrongly, they feel under siege by a world that has failed them multiple times. The Eritrean regime understands this mindset and exploits it to prolong its hold on power.

Eritreans have not been able to suppress this pessimistic history of negligence at the hands of world powers. Thousands of Eritreans died in the liberation war (1961-1991) due to the shortsightedness of US and UN policy makers, who in the late 1940s and early 1950s conspired against the will of the majority of Eritreans. When a decade later in 1962 the federation, that was imposed on Eritrea, was unilaterally abrogated by Ethiopia neither the UN nor the US raised eyebrows.

When Eritreans rose in arms and waged what has been named Africa’s longest war, none of the afore-mentioned powers showed any moral responsibility in resolving the conflict. It is only after Eritrea achieved its imminent and de facto independence—through military victory—these powers paid attention, and it is mostly to avert a power vacuum in Ethiopia. Eritrea, in itself, has never been important to the US and the world, although it should have been. Eritrea was home to US military base, Kagnew Station, for over three decades (1943-1977).

The strategically-located, free, democratic, and sovereign Eritrea will be a great and natural ally to the US and the freedom-loving world.

What goes for Ethiopia goes for the Horn of Africa (HOA):

Ethiopia is the regional giant; what it does has serious ramifications. A good Ethiopia is good for the HOA; it has to be assertive and strong, and yet friendly and peaceful. Ethiopia’s importance is even more evident in the case of Eritrea. Eritrea cannot afford to have a bad Ethiopia or Sudan—its two giants neighbors—and this reality should be the basis of its regional policy. What made the 1998-2000 war more tragic was that it belied this very basic truth.

It is in the best interest of the HOA countries to embark on a democratization project. Ethiopia and Djibouti with all their deficiencies have already taken the democratization baby-steps and the Somali region known as Somaliland is relatively on the consolidation phase and one could only hope this would have a spill-over effect on the rest of the Somali regions and Eritrea.

The voluntary resignation of former Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Desalegn Haile Mariam, and the peaceful transfer of power to the new prime minister, Abiye Ahmed, has heralded a new era of optimism.

Eritrea is far behind on the democratization project. All the strides that were made by the Transitional Government of Eritrea prior to the border war have been completely stricken out as the ruling party PFDJ has become increasingly oppressive. The siege mentality coupled with Ethiopia’s intransigence to comply with The Hague ruling has created a fertile ground for tyranny in Eritrea. Ethiopia’s preoccupation with security in Eritrea and Somalia is not helping because it limits its due influence and potential as a leading moral, democratic and economic force. Ethiopia has ignored the biblical precept that “By justice a king gives a country stability.” (Pr. 29:4)

An Ethiopia that is guided by a long-term vision of democracy, prosperity and regional cooperation is good for the HOA. Ethiopia must show the wisdom and courage to make short-term political sacrifices for long-term good gains. This is the stuff of greatness and an Ethiopia that lives up to this potential is what the HOA needs.

Nonetheless, it is not a bad thing that the regime, despite the objection of some Ethiopian naysayers, has declared its acceptance of The Hague ruling while insisting on resolving all pending issues prior to the full implementation of the agreement.This caveat, however, seems to be devised for domestic political consumption rather than for peace and justice. Many Ethiopians during the war rallied behind their flag with the tacit understanding that they would bring Eritrea, if not all of it, at least the port of Asseb back to Ethiopia.

Eritrea has suspected all along that Ethiopia is trying to achieve in a dialogue what it has not been able to win in war and arbitration. It has accused Ethiopia of disguising itself in her lips, but in her heart, it harbors deceit. (Pr. 26:24)

Ethiopia, however, can’t afford to be perceived as threat to its neighbors. The colossus of the HOA must learn how to strike the right balance between might and right. The boogeyman south-of-the-border is how the regime in Eritrea perpetuates an environment of fear and mistrust among its populace; it has enlisted its service effectively. Nobody questions how thin is the Ethiopian thread by which the sword of Damocles is suspended but most people believe it is there. It is how things are defended and rationalized in Eritrea and as long as it exists any efforts to democratize Eritrea will be easily thwarted.

One of the challenges of the Eritrean democratic forces is figuring out how they can convince the Ethiopian government to have this ground cut under PFDJ’s feet.If there is any short-cut on the road to regime change and democracy in Eritrea where the Eritreans are in charge, then, this is it.

Regime Change is the Prerogative of the Eritrean People

For many Eritreans, the Eritrean-Ethiopian conflict is the mother-of-all-conflicts which has taken the whole country hostage and put the democratization project on hold; for many others it’s Isaias’s tyranny that is responsible for Eritrea’s current predicament. The two are not mutually exclusive; they tend to feed on each other in an uncanny way. Solving the border will certainly create new challenges but also opportunities. In the case of Eritrea, reintegrating a heavily militarized society will prove to be a Herculean task which will most likely lead to mass uprisings or military coups.

Most members of the Eritrean opposition find themselves in an unenviable position. They operate from the land of the enemy without refuting the presence of the boogeyman. Whether reality or perception, this is part of the Eritrean public mindset that needs to be reckoned with.

One of the main reasons the Eritrean opposition has failed to make any progress in removing the regime is because the Eritreans that matter the most—those inside the country—are not convinced that the divided Ethiopia-based opposition have Eritrea’s best interest at heart. Some in the opposition are perceived by many as puppets of the TPLF.

To make matters worse, some groups within the Eritrean opposition have become disciples of Ethnic Federalism, and for an overwhelming majority of Eritreans this is anathema to everything they hold dear and good. The Eritrean opposition is perceived to be an accomplice to Ethiopia’s antagonistic policy towards Eritrea, and consequently it suffers from any real and perceived threats Ethiopia poses to Eritrea.

Eritrea—with its fiercely independent past, a culture of patriotic sacrifices and its recent experience with an autocratic system—is destined to marshal its resources and aspirations to realize a democratic Athens in Africa. The ideals of liberty, peace and democracy have never preoccupied the minds of Eritreans as they do today. The rude awakenings of the various recent tragedies have induced an intense interest on Eritreans to wrestle with these perennial political issues.

The fight for democracy stands a better chance today than ever before. Eritreans have an indefatigable esprit de corps and they will, once again, rise up to the occasion. What the HOA needs is democracy; more and not less of it. A Tigrinya proverb says that the source of prosperity is not the willowing floor but the floors of Ecclesia—peoples’ assembly.

The democratic transformation of Eritrea is in the best interest of the whole region. Good neighborliness and regional cooperation is only possible with an Eritrea that is free and democratic.

Why Dialogue Now?

Ethiopia has “accepted” the decision “in principle” but is calling for a “dialogue” to sort out the “anomalies and impracticabilities.” This is absurd because Ethiopia had its day in court and had willingly agreed to the arbitration terms when it was decisively enjoying the military upper-hand. In any war, the victor usually dictates the outcome of any armistice, and Ethiopia was not under any duress to accept the Algiers Agreement.

Ethiopia’s failure to honor its obligation is counter-productive to peace and stability. For a decade, the world in general, and Eritreans in particular have let the grass grow under their feet hoping for Ethiopia to comply. The UN, AU, EU, and the US have not done enough to shoulder their responsibility as guarantors and witnesses of the Algiers agreement.

Eritrea should not enter into a dialogue with Ethiopia out of fear, but it should not fear to enter into a dialogue. There were about 13 face-to-face border related meetings between 1993 and 1997, the last six of them were held in 1997. These meetings took place when the relationship between the two countries was warm and cordial.

How can a call fordialogue be taken seriously in an environment rife with hostility, mistrust and suspicion?

It is a valid question and one that needs to be addressed. By insisting on having a dialogue prior to demarcation, Ethiopia is making the perfect the enemy of the good. Most reasonable people would agree that the demarcation is not the-be-all-and-end-all solution, but it is a great start that would inevitably lead to the normalization of relations.  Demarcation is just the edge of the wedge; and Ethiopia must make virtue of necessity.

It is not that the call for dialogue is patently wrong, but the context in which Ethiopia is invoking it.

Eritrea must clearly and unequivocally show its readiness and willingness to enter into a dialogue as soon as the border demarcation commences and work on resolving all pending issues which will gradually lead towards achieving what Ethiopia has called a “comprehensive peace.” This is a process which will inherently take a long time and most likely outlive the current generation of leaders. The goal of the current leaders should be to lay the ground work so future leaders can build on it. Focus should be on managing what is unavoidable and avoiding what is unmanageable.

There is some merit to the “anomalies and impracticabilities” concern that Ethiopia has raised, but it is a bit too late and a bit too small.  In the grand scheme of things, it is not that important to de facto nullify and void The Hague ruling and the Algiers Agreement. Perhaps it should have been part of the original agreement, or the court should have been given the power to make decisions ex aequo et bono (according to what is equitable and good), but it should not be used retroactively derail a process where life and death hinges on it.

The Ethiopians should find solace in history that the predecessors of the same villages and people they are concerned about have managed to move on with their lives when colonial powers divided them over a century ago. Family and silken ties are not severed easily and when they are temporarily suspended, they have a way of coming back. Besides, the affected village communities could invoke the right of self-determination on which side of the border they want to be.

The United Nations is also entrusted “to facilitate resolution of problems which may arise due to the transfer of territorial control, including the consequences for individuals residing in previously disputed territory” (Article 5:16). This stipulation is only applicable post the demarcation phase.

There is a reason why the US, EU, AU, UN, and most countries have called on Ethiopia to comply with the verdict. Granted their calls have a glaring lack of moral outrage and indignation, and this has casted, in the eyes of many Eritreans, a cloud of doubt on their sincerity and commitment to the agreement they had helped broker. They AU and UN have failed their obligations, but nevertheless recognize this is the only way to the normalization of relations between the two countries.

EEBC Has All it Needs to Do its Job

The EEBC has all it needs to start demarcation and get the job done. The agreement does not mandate her to facilitate or require a dialogue between the two parties. A dialogue, if agreed upon by the two parties, might help, but it is not essential or necessary for the commission to do its mandated work. All the EEBC needs from both countries is to be left alone to do its work.

Ethiopia has to honor its legal obligation and let the EEBC start demarcating the border.

Hanish Should Serve as a Precedent

Conflicts don’t prescribe war; how they are managed makes all the difference. The 1998-2000 war will go in history as a classic example of mismanagement and failure of leadership on both sides.

The reason the Eritrean-Yemeni Hanish Islands conflict came to a quick end, within 3 days (December 15-17, 1995), was because President Salah of Yemen had the courage to refuse to tango with Isaias Afwerki when a majority of his parliament were calling on him “to teach Eritrea a lesson.” The restraint of Salah had helped both countries avert unnecessary bloodshed, but also enabled Yemen to win most of the territories in dispute.

In October 1998, the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled that the main islands making the Hanish archipelago belong to Yemen. Eritrea accepted the decision and withdrew its forces immediately.

In legal terms, Yemen won; and Eritrea lost, but in terms of peace, both won.

When conflicts arise, law, agreements and treaties should carry the day. This is the stuff peace is made of.  A mechanism of conflict resolution is the best down payment Eritrea and Yemen could have made in their peace and security. The legal and peaceful resolution of the Hanish conflict has set a good precedent.

Demarcation is a major step towards regional peace and democracy in the HOA:                                            

The only rationale Eritrea and Ethiopia are on the opposite sides on the Somali conflict is because Eritrea sees the conflict as an extension of its war with Ethiopia—its proxy war. It defies any other logic why Eritrea, in the early days of the Somali conflict, would support an al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist group in Somalia if it was not for the notion that an enemy of my enemy is my friend.It is not the incremental “tightening” of UN sanctions that would give Eritrea the disincentives from playing a “spoiler’s” role in the HOA, but justice.The world’s inaction is seen by many Eritreans as tantamount to condoning Ethiopia’s intransigence and violation.

Solving the Eritrean-Ethiopian border conflict is, therefore, solving half of the HOA’s conflicts. If the international community can get Eritrea and Ethiopia to cooperate, pull together, or, at least, not work against each-other, then the possibility of a regional peace and democracy is within reach.

Peace can’t be so near and yet so far in the Horn of Africa.

Ethiopia and Eritrea hold the key; and a compromise can be struck between their respective positions. Both have accepted The Hague ruling and the sanctity of this decision is the launching pad of a way out.

Eritrea wants demarcation to precede normalization. Ethiopia wants to enter into a dialogue on all “pending issues” before letting the demarcation take place. Both positions can be reconciled if The Hague ruling is not part of the dialogue and it is implemented in the manner the EEBC sees fit. Dialogue on all other pending issues can be simultaneously conducted. In this win-win situation, The Hague ruling will not be undermined when Ethiopia allows the demarcation to take place “as it is” and Eritrea enters into a dialogue to resolve all “pending issues” leading to “comprehensive peace”.

Both countries can demarcate while dialoguing and dialogue while demarcating.

The US, UN, AU, EU, and the rest of the international community must lead this effort and facilitate the process. There is today less acrimony and bellicosity between the two governments and there is a widespread fighting-fatigue among the people particularly Eritreans. Many Ethiopians also recognize the importance of Eritrean ports to their economic development and regret the missed opportunities for cooperation between the two sisterly countries. According to a high ranking Ethiopian official Ethiopia’s expenditure in port fees has risen by more than 1400% since it went to war with Eritrea in 1998. Eritrea with its vacant ports has lost most of its revenue from port fees.

The situation is ripe, and the time is right for a shuttle diplomacy between Asmera and Addis Ababa.

The large Eritrean and Ethiopian Diaspora and its civil society organizations can play an important role in bridging differences and laying the ground work for regional collaboration. States should not be the only actors and more ways must be pursued where various people and organizations can play a constructive role in the HOA.

One way to make dialogue an attractive alternative is to let many and diverse civil society organizations as well as political parties to be part of the process.

Yamamoto could successfully finish what Susan Rice, Richard Holbrooke and Anthony Lake had started.


Semere Habtemariam







Semere T. Habtemariam:

is the Chief Executive Officer of the Forum for National Dialogue. He is one of the founders and pioneers of the civil society organizations that sprouted in the aftermath of the arrest of the group known as G-15 and the journalists of the free press. He is the author of two books, “Reflections on the History of the Tewahdo Church,” and “Hearts Like Birds.” He has a master’s degree in public Affairs and a Bachelor’s in Government and Politics from the University of Texas at Dallas. He lives with his wife and four children in Carrollton, Texas.


The author of this article is the Chief Executive Office and member of the Board of Directors of the Forum for National Dialogue, but the views and opinions expressed in this article are his only and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Forum for National Dialogue. FND does not espouse any official policy or position on any issues. Members of the Board are free to express any opinion they hold.

The purge of 1973: origins of the EPLF

%AM, %11 %419 %2018 %11:%May Written by

This historic interview was undertaken with Haile Menkerios, the most senior Eritrean at the UN – Under Secretary-General of the United Nations. It concerns the early years of the Eritrean liberation struggle.

Haile uses the term Meda(ሜዳ), a word that is translated as the “field,” is also used to refer to areas of operation for the Eritrean liberation fighters during the war of independence. Liberation fighters collectively called all of their strongholds, as well as other areas of operation, meda.

The Haile Menkerios revealed important details of the split within the liberation movement and Isaias Afwerki’s crackdown on his opponents in the Menkae

Members of Executive Committee of EPLF 1977–1987Members of Executive Committee of EPLF 1977–1987 standing: Ogbe Abraha, Ali Said Abdella, Sebhat Efrem, Haile Woldetinsae, Petros Solomon, Mohammed Said Bareh, Mesfin Hagos, Al-Amin Mohammed Said Sitting: Berhane Gherezgiher, Ibrahim Afa, Romedan Mohammed Nur, Isaias Afewerki, Mahmoud Shrifo

 The PLF leadership crisis 1973

Contributed by Aida Kidane, 31 Jul 2005

Source: EHREA

This incident was one small happening which led to a large one, fighters purging each other thus the killings of the “Menkae” and possibly the “Yemeen” branded fighters of the so called movements.

I prefer sending the persons interviews than analyzing it because the fighters I interviewed told me of their personal experiences and were not in the exact places when the happenings occurred.

Interview with Haile Menkerios 24.10.04

Question: When did you join the struggle?

I went to meda early 1973.

Question: Why did you go?

You have to understand there was a lot of idealism, student movement, and it was not only I but many students. It was a duty which we happily accepted. We knew that harsh life was expecting us. We decided that we should be examples to all Eritreans for such a commitment. I was in graduate school then. We were the first ones going from here. We were about 5 who started but only I and another friend went to meda.

We went through Yemen to meda since we had contact with meda. Aboi Welde Ab was in Cairo in the PLF- Peoples Liberation Forces- office. The ELF and PLF were in civil war then. Going to Sudan was falling into the hands of the ELF and the main office of PLF was in Democratic republic of Yemen – Aden. There was another office in Beirut too, in these 3 countries.

In Cairo office was Taha Mohammed Nur, Osman Sabbe himself in Beirut and fighters in Yemen who had direct contact with meda. And anyone joining meda goes through Yemen in those days.

So we went to Cairo and then to Yemen. From there we took a small boat, a fisherman’s dhow across the Red Sea to the Eritrea-Sudan border to Sahel, and at night time.

While in the US, we had contact with meda through members as Tsegai Khasai had come, and also Mahmoud Sherifo and Gebre Medhin Gidey who were in Kessela. We had contact with them from end of 1970 and 71, and after they went to meda we had contact through Aboi Welde Ab and Taha.

All the fighters split from ELF. Some went to Ala, others in small groups to the Sudan when killing started. Those PLF1 mostly Red Sea people, were taken by Sabbe to Aden and then to meda. Sherifo had stayed in Kessela and we corresponded with him. Then Gebre Medhin went to Cairo.

When I joined the front, there was no regular military training. We were joining in small numbers, 2 or 3 in one time. At daytime those not trained were called out to the river banks and we got some military exercise as we went along and at nights we slept in hills.

Then a large group of about 30 came from inside Eritrea and we had a 2 week training together in a place called Arag, in Sahel.

We heard of the civil fightings of Geregir and that the Sudanese had told the Eritreans to get inside Eritrean border. When we reached Eritrea, there were fighters waiting for us since supplies and weapons too were brought with us. They told us of having heard shooting in Geregir when coming to us that our forces must have moved camp. The civil strife continued when we were there for 6 months.

There was registration of new comers, written in note books, not properly as was later used. One to be fighter is already known of, coming to Yemen. For those joining from inside Eritrea, the town agents gathered them in Bahri. The person’s name and background is known then and proceed to Sahel.

The PLF 1 (Shabia)were about 150 man strong and PLF 2 (Selfi) about 120 and Obel 20-30 men. All sides had their circles, it was not totally integrated then. We new ones and the 30 other new ones and some coming in few numbers had made training for 2 weeks, numbering to about 50. This is a large number of force that reformation (tekhlit) were made, and a new haili formed.

Then, I and Mehari Gimatsion from the USSR were told that we should go abroad and organize students, workers etc organizations and to return to Europe. I did not want the job after come determined to fight in the field. It was better to send a veteran fighter who had many experiences because we cannot be called fighters in only 6 months time.

While we were at the river side, there had been a long time competition between Selomon W Mariam and two leadership members, Tewelde Eyob and Asmerom Gerezghier. Selomon was an active person who used to make cliques of his own, he was a city man with connections with civil organizations, not much a military man.

Tewelde Eyob was the strongest of the three and Asmerom was not much educated or active but they were regarded militarily leadership by the fighters. As the country had feudal society, people depended more on persons from their region. Selomon was rumoured on being a regionalist and had sometime spoken the Akele Guzai being more numerous. We were surprised that such backward thoughts were in meda, even Eritrea was seeming little for us let alone think in region, and we did not know who was from where.

All soldiers slept in hill tops while the leadership rested in river bank guarded making it not easy for the enemy to enter. Water was so important it had to be well guarded surrounding the area lest the enemy control the water areas. We were expecting to be sent abroad.

We had come to understand the confrontations of Selomon on one side and Tewelde and Asmerom on the other side. One day, Selomon came to us and said that from now on he will eat in our group. The first female fighters Dehab and Werku were already with us.

As we were distributed radios, Selomon took our radio. I asked him why he did not use the leadership’s radio than ours because we wanted to hear news too. He answered no, theirs is the mesafinti (feudal) radio, and I was shocked that the leadership had such disagreements.

In the daytime next day, I talked to some officers saying we are seeing a not strong leadership. We had the criticizm and self criticizm customs. That Selomon openly calls the others feudalistic, how could a weak leadership continue, meaning the whole front is not strongly led. They told me I should say to Selomon himself and I answered that the leadership makes us criticizes for the loss of needles and they should together do their own criticizes. I cannot go to Issayas and tell him Selomon calls him a feudalist.

This was the start of the whole situation that expanded into other matters. This called for a meeting of 12 persons, the leadership and some cadres. Issayas wondered why the meeting was called. I was then asked what happened. I repeated what had happened and said I think the fighters see you as a solid leadership and matters should come into agreements. These fighters had long time relationships and said it was Selomon who was feudalist and was regionalist tendencies too. They talked of past experiences what had happened and the majority were against Selomon.

Issayas then said that he cannot continue acting like their priest and the issue must be resolved among these people once and for all. When he said that, the issue became wider. We were there to reconcile and the some of the accused cadres and leadership now became the accusers. We said to them that they could not solve the problem as they were seen accusing each other and it should be examined. Selomon is accused of being regionalist, and you who should be in between are becoming accusers. We were 7 together. I suggested that those who knew them all should hold a large cadre discussion. This radio incident was the opener of the conflict history.

Then 52 members from all hailis-units and veterans gathered. They told us to run it and we saw there was a deeper division amongst them, Akele Guzai and Hamasien divisions. As the front’s strongholds were in Ala and Semanawi Bahri-Hamasien, it was the people from there who joined in most numbers. Many from Serae and other regions joined ELF because ELF was in those areas. Joining the front for many was not an ideology question, but proximity to join. Many who joined were specifically from Karneshim and Tsena Degle areas because they lived in these areas.

Selomon had his gangs of supports and Tewelde/Asmerom had their own gang. It was much later we learnt that Asmerom was from Debarua, Serae. It is common that people connect to their near folks and feudal traditions are not overcome yet.

The worst situation came from the educated fighters who did not like the way the leadership run the front, saying The leadership are backward and are attacking Selomon by regionalism. That the leadership should be thoroughly changed, and we should be guided by scientific socialism, saying this was a national democratic revolution, socialist in character to lead to communism. These fighters were strongly leftist, with many opinions which we believed in too. They claimed that the leadership is feudal and Issayas was with these men that it should be changed. Our aims should be changed making it a socialist revolution.

The leftists sided with Selomon claiming the leadership wanted to kill him, to get alliance from the Hamasien side were more in number and stronger, and gain support from his side. And Selomon became their ally.

In this meeting of the 52 members, the leftists were attacked saying they are using Solomon’s regionalism to remove him later and take power because they themselves are regionalists. The leftists wanted to use the cracks on the leadership. They wanted larger fighters meetings and that the educated should lead etc. This lead to the movement known as the ‘MenkaE movement’.

Then Musie T Mikel from the leftists said these people use the front as their personal power who ‘pee and make faeces’ as they wished. Musie was not at loss to use words. They suppress people and charge anyone as they wish be it in regionalism or other to kill him.

Since we were the ones who gathered this meeting, we had called fighters who could make changes from the leadership and Musie and co were one of these. We invited them specifically too.

When Musie used these words, there was Tsegai Keshi, a haili leader, who was against Selomon, though he was Hamasien too. He was a very forward and honest but uneducated man and no talker. He got so angry saying ‘now you say this leadership pees and makes faeces!’ and hit Musie on the head with his rifle butt. This should not have happened and we demanded that Tsegai be imprisoned. I, Mehari Girmatsion and a third man were the responsible for holding this meeting. As it was according to PLF rules, I myself imprisoned Tsegai. He did not shoot at his comrade but hit him and putting a guard on him, he was sentenced to punishment.

That became the end of meetings and the leftists said did we not say so, that they pee and have faeces on us. And they took over and Musie used that. Musie was a smart guy. Thinking about it later, there was nothing bad about it, it was true.

The traditional leadership did not have capacity to lead, although they started the military wing. Tewelde Eyob was a good military leader. Issayas was the only politically capable person. Basically many fighters had come from the rural areas and the conflict situation had come untimely, otherwise their opinions were not disagreeable. And that they attacked the leadership. The timing and way they conducted was not right.

So they went and said that the leadership should go down and be replaced, we shall have a scientific socialism and we know about it. And the other side disagreed that Yohannes etc – the leftists- should rule and we thought it was opportunistic talking only about the leadership.

Their mistake was their arguing on the leadership than reshape the line, and nobody who knew of it did not oppose changing our ways. The situation started growing widely and that Musie was hit, as if we too sanctioned it. What we wanted was taking the right road, recognize the weakness of the traditional leadership and demanded a congress be made and new leadership to be elected. We did not have a programme or constitution and we had the 3 united fronts working in their own rules that the congress becomes our lead.

But there came confusion in the front and the leadership was not obeyed and at that time the Ethiopians came on us in Sahel, the 13 day war. Instead of guerrilla warfare we were forced to fight holding positions.

Petros Selomon and Sebhat Efrem were with the leftists-Menka at the beginning and were thus imprisoned, and that is the first time I saw imprisoning of them, as they had wanted to imprison the leadership. Now all of a sudden, Selomon recognized that these people at the end would break his post and take it, and turned against them.

The front had now split into three groups. One was the Menka who claimed that the leadership was old with no knowledge and should be changed to scientific socialism etc.

The second was Selomon’s group whose region Hamasien were numerous as they were in the ridge to the front, the Semenawi Bahri. When one joined the front one who knows him join too and the geographical location attracted it. These big numbers were the supporters of Selomon. These were against Issayas and the Menka, even though they sided with the Menka at the beginning. They had claimed Selomon was to be killed, but they did not want to glorify Selomon. They started saying Selomon is no different from the others in the leadership and they should be changed. When Selomon realized this he came to opposition to them and had to come back to the leadership mould again. Now the leadership and their supporters built a united front.

Selomon was earlier attacking the Akele Guzai, then changed and supported the Menkae and again attacked both sides. He was a good and active organizer of people, and started imprisoning fighters.

The third group said the leadership was feudalistic but should be changed systematically. This would widen the split between the Hamasien and Akele Guzai.

So it was an uneasy alliance. There were Serae too but we did not know them, being too few.

We started talking to Issayas and others that these two groups are dangerous. We cannot complain on Selomon and the feudalists as we are surrounded wholly by it. It is a secondary issue which will get better with education and time, we cannot oppose all these peasants. There must be an alliance and this extreme leftism will crush us so we have to create a solid organisation. We cannot teach communism with the mostly peasants and we started organising.

This is what eventually created the Party inside the front. Wedi Selomon and others realized where it was leading and changed sides. Yohannes-Menka was a man of fists, just like Issayas. But Issayas was a good military leader who maintained the balance and was aware of the social traditions. He knew where power was to be taken.

We had united with PLF 1 while the situation was going on and these were in between and eventually took sides of the third group. And some of their leadership, particularly Romadan had a big roll. He had balanced opinions and free from regionalism and religion and far sighted, and Ibrahim Afa, Ali Said etc were with him.

There had to be a structure because it was a united front and a secret socialist party was created and it went on getting bigger and took over. When the Menkae became imprisoned, it can be said that the rest dispersed. The Menkae did not have a big support and there was much persecution by Selomon.

Our position was that we opposed Selomon’s group and the extreme leftism that came, and being in between was considered biased and was dangerous and that’s why we organized and Isayas and Romadan were key in organising it. And that became the totally dominant force throughout being the instrument of control and leadership at the beginning. There were no more Menkae or Yemin. As time went by, the leadership role got less and instrument of control got bigger.

Petros and Sebhat had been with the Menkae and when imprisoning started, they changed positions saying the Menkae were trying to take power not for the better of the revolution. Now that we know them, it is us who shall charge them and did so. They were instrumental in organising it and also the secret Party.

The Menkae were imprisoned for a long time and in 1979 when there was no more support for them, a military committee was formed, the military tribunal. The party was formed in 1975 and by 1979 it was totally dominating. The Menkae were charged and killed in secret and I did not know. Nobody was told when the killings were done and they were alive in the congress of 1976. Some were freed in 1978 as Werku was freed and  was brought to us. Maybe they were killed and we heard it much later to justify their case, we did not know. That is when I heard and it was not officially. Those who knew the whole secret are not more than 5 or 7.

Because I was in the Zena (news) group, it was basically the center of ideology and materials to read. It was after 1976 that the political office of the Party was formed. When the girls Abeba, Werku and Maasho were freed 1976 and brought to us that we shall indoctrinate them. I tried to explain to them that both sides were incorrect, Selomon being Feudal and the Menka being extremist. Selomon was at his highest. I told them we cannot erase feudalism now and we cannot fight it head on, but with education and time. But this extremism is dangerous for the front and lead to its collapse. Dehab and Aberash were not freed and imprisoned with the rest because they did not repent and believed their cause was just.

The leadership were few and the issue was taken at that level and supposedly trusted by the fighters to do the right thing. The Executive Committee, the Politburo was formed then and made the decision, I was member of the Central Committee. Things like that were secret as it was a military front.

There were two parallel organisations in the front. The Party was secret and had its political office, i.e the Politburo, and they also had a Central Committee. And the front had its politburo and Central Committee. I was member of the latter, the mass organisation, and never in the secret Party’s committee. They did not trust the educated fearing they would topple them.

Some of the secret politburo members were Isayas, Romadan, Ibrahim Afa, Ali Said Abdella, Haile Durue, Alamin. Mesfin Hagos was there at one time. This led to absolute authority of the leader.

Question: In the ‘Destructive Movement of 1973’ supposedly by Isayas, it states that the first female fighters of EPLF were having problems of upbringings and origins, and that they were spoiled. Was that the fact you saw?

This is just false accusations. They were with my ganta from the start until they were imprisoned. We were not interested on others origins and were thinking in international socialist ways. They were not in leading positions either. They were idealists like all of us. Once they were convinced their group were right and did not want to go against their comrades. Werku and Masho in our ganta, Dehab and Aberash in another ganta.


Eritrean refugees SwitzerlandOver the past two years, the Swiss Office for Migration has steadily intensified its crackdown against Eritrean asylum seekers, even though there has been no evidence that the human rights situation in the country of origin had really improved.

We, an association of private individuals and organisations from Swiss civil society, as well as numerous members of the Eritrean community based in Switzerland are therefore of the opinion that these legislative changes are politically motivated.

However, the right to asylum is granted in various international treaties and must not be subject to political opportunism.

We are therefore jointly demonstrating so that the right to asylum for Eritrean refugees in Switzerland shall continue to be respected.

Where? On the square in front of the Federal Palace in Bern.

We cordially invite you to talk to both Eritreans and Swiss about their reasons for participating in the rally, to later attend the petition handover in front of the Federal Parace and finally to attend the press conference from 11.45 a.m. onwards.

See the video here

See the press release Swiss refugee protest

The press release and a detailed dossier in German and French explaining the reasons from launching the petition are attached to this e-mail. Under point 6 of the press dossier, you will find the contact details of the persons from the petition committee who will be happy to answer your questions even in the run-up to the demonstration.

See the Swiss refugee protest


9.30 h
Gathering. Participants unfamiliar with the location will be welcomed at Bern train station by members of our security team and then be escorted to the Federal Palace.

10.00 h
Start of the rally. Speeches will be given by representatives of the Eritrean community, the church, the Swiss refugee agencies as well as by a member of the Parliament.

11.30 h
Handing over of the petition
by members of the citizens committee to the Justice Minister and the Parliament.

11.45 h
Press conference.

12.00 h
End of the rally.


Reuters Staff

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - Libyan coastguard vessels intercepted more than 500 migrants on four inflatable boats on Monday off the country’s western coast and returned them to Libya, a spokesman said.

One boat carrying about 100 migrants was intercepted off the western city of Sabratha, about 70 km west of the capital, Tripoli, naval coastguard spokesman Ayoub Qassem said.

Another three boats with a total of more than 400 migrants on board were picked up off Garabulli, east of Tripoli.

The migrants were taken to one of several detention centers nominally under government control in Tripoli.

Libya is the main departure point for migrants trying to cross to Europe by sea, though the number making it to Italy has dropped sharply since last July after a major smuggling group in Sabratha halted departures before being defeated in clashes.

The EU and Italy are also supporting Libya’s coastguard to intercept more migrants, a policy criticized by activists who say they are being returned to inhumane conditions in Libya.

Some 6,660 migrants have crossed to Italy from Libya so far this year, more than 80 percent fewer than the same period in 2017, according to the Italian interior ministry.


Most are sub-Saharan Africans, though increasing numbers of North Africans have been trying to cross in recent months. Most of those on the boat intercepted off Sabratha on Monday were North African, including 18 Libyans, Qassem said.

Reporting by Ahmed Elumami; Editing by Aidan Lewis and James Dalgleish



by Martin Plaut

Source: Regional Mixed Migration Secretariat

RMMS East Africa and Yemen Monthly Summary

March 2018

Eritrean Refugees & Asylum seekers in the region

There are approximately 167,969 Eritrean refugees living in Ethiopia with 2,772 having arrived into Ethiopia in 2018 alone. 73,078 of the Eritrean refugees previously registered as living in camps have settled in urban areas. Eritrean refugees constitute 18.3% of the entire Ethiopian refugee population as at March 2018. In Somalia, there were 86 Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers by the end of March 2018 while in Kenya there were approximately 1,360 Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers by end of February 2018. Of the 1,360 refugees and asylum seekers, 95% are currently living in Nairobi. In South Sudan, there were approximately 1,472 registered Eritrean refugees at the end of March.

Refugees & IDPs

By end of March, there were 4,348 new South Sudanese refugee arrivals in Sudan bringing the total num-ber of arrivals in 2018 to 14,690. The main areas of settlement are East and South Darfur, West and South Kordofan, and West Nile. By end of March, East Darfur hosted 5,404 South Sudanese refu-gees, South Darfur 3,722, West Kordofan 3,227, South Kordofan 453 and White Nile 1,884 since the beginning of the year. Howev-er, the number of South Sudanese arriving into Sudan has de-creased across the first 3 months of the year with 5,770 having arrived in January, 4572 in February and 4,348 in March. UNHCR estimates that there are approximately 768,830 South Sudanese refugees living in Sudan with a majority of these having arrived after 2013. Twenty one percent of the South Sudanese refugee population were adults between 18 and 59 years, 13% between 5 and 11 years, 9% between 0 and 4 years, 8% between 12 and 17 years and 2% over 60 years of age. In South Sudan however, there are approximately 270,560 Sudanese refugees living in the country. UNICEF reports that there are approximately 2 million people internally displaced in Sudan with 960,000 of these being children & 468,475 being South Sudanese refugee children.

Political relations with Eritrea

In January’s monthly summary, RMMS noted that there were rising tensions between Sudan and Eritrea following the closure of the border with Eritrea allegedly due to the deployment of Egyptian troops to Asmara. However on 23 March, the Eritrean Ministry of Information accused the Sudanese government of helping set up an office for the followers of radical Islamic Cleric, Mohammed Jumma, in a secluded area to organize political and military activities with funding from the Qatari Embassy in Khartoum & logistical support from Sudanese Security and Intelligence Service. The Sudanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs later refuted these claims saying that its government is committed to its policy of good neighborliness and non-interference in internal affairs.

Arrivals into Italy

However, between January and March 2018, Eritreans comprised 25% of all arrivals into Italy via the Central Mediterranean Route. UNHCR reports that the numbers of Eritreans registered at disembarkation sites in Italy have increased from 577 to 1,552 in comparison to the same period in 2017 with 25% of the arrivals being women. The report also shows that more Eritrean women arrived into Italy in 2018 compared to the same period in 2017. According to UNHCR, Eritreans account for 4.7% of the total Mediterranean Sea arrivals from January to of March 2018 and 7.2% of arrivals along the Central Mediterranean Route. The number currently stands at 8,604 and is the highest number for migrants from the Horn of Africa region.

The Israel Situation

Last month, RMMS reported that an Is-raeli court ruled that Eritreans who deserted military service back home in search of refugee in Israel were granted asylum status following previous challenges in accessing asylum in Israel. Following this, the Israeli government signed a deal with UNHCR to resettle approximately 16,000 African asylum seekers (including Eritreans) in Western Countries - a deal that was later suspended by the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, with reports claiming that the deal had angered members of his right-wing Likud Party