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A Tyrant Tossing with Terrorism in Today’s Eritrea
By Terrence Mebrhatu
In the late 1960s and 1970s, when revolutionary parties of the left type time and again issued a manifesto, and declared that they are out "to liberate" the masses, it appeared not to have pricked the conscience of many. To the regret of millions, brutal acts were to follow after such deliberations.
A simple tally of the revolutionary movements, who took power, and particularly those who espoused the class struggle from the 1940s to the 1980s would be an eye opener. Many of them including the Eritrean Shaabia regime have turned into tyrannical governments, and their guerrilla leaders became dictators. Notwithstanding the constant quote made about the "foolish old man who removed the mountains," from the infamous Red book, Mao and his disciple Issaias Afeworki, ended becoming the emperors of China and Eritrea respectively. I argue that anytime a group states "it is out to liberate a people," the first act of violence is committed. The implication of this benign looking word of wisdom - “liberate” - is enormous.
It is almost always awful. The fate of the rural communities and livelihoods of many nations had been to endure a lot of misery, sandwiched between the constant watch and repression of their guerrilla liberators, and the various states of emergency laws of the status quo governments.
When a bearded commissar goes into a village, and announces his party’s intent that is "to liberate," the emasculation of the peasants and their institutions begins. Their old age customs are questioned, and their close knit communities get crumbling. The vanguard party’s immediate goal was in many instances to launch a social experiment; and would not allow anything to stop it. The organization ends up becoming a control freak.
A look at incidences at home and abroad
At home in Eritrea, Issaias Afeworki and his henchmen were supposedly former liberators who have turned out to be diehard dictators . Issaias remained the sole strong man in the entire period of the EPLF struggle, and was able to recycle people for different tasks. Some of the current dissenters in jail were his fellow henchmen to be later frozen.
So Issaias Afeworki has already built a pervasive personality cult as a result of which one observes portraits and posters of him adorned everything from public places to private business shops and individual residences. He controlled all media, and the intervals between his televised speeches were filled with dance and song performances in his honor with such titles as “The Lessons of the Great Struggle for independence …” His book of collection of speeches remains mandatory reading in all schools. It stood alongside the only two permitted religions: The Orthodox Christianity and Sunni Islam. He established the death penalty and defined treason as “efforts to sow doubt about the domestic and foreign policy of the first President of Eritrea, Issaias Afeworki. What about the Opposition? When questioned by foreign journalists, he replied: “You have been misinformed. We have no opposition. But the West still talks about me as an autocrat leader.”
Out of the country, the Eritrean Shaabia government has been violating the UN anti-terror laws through hosting, harboring and by giving training to religious and/or politically inclined fundamentalists and terrorist groups like Alshebab, OLF, AFD and Al Qaeda groups thus far.
Indeed and very truly indeed, the Eritrean Shaabia government is caught-up in a series of violation of the UN-charter passed by the UN-Security Council since it got its de facto 'independence' in 1993. The tyrant Issayas Afeworki and his Shaabia party have been waging havoc in defiance of the UN-Charter and have even created unwanted conflict with more than three countries by raising territorial claims from neighboring states including the Sudan, Ethiopia and Yemen and held four different wars and several skirmishes. The crisis that was caused through Sudanese sponsorship of a fundamentalist group, Eritrea Jihad, which seeks to overthrow the secular government of Eritrea, is a case in point that came as a major test of the diplomatic and political skills of Issayas Afeworki (http://www.blackwell-synergy.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1468-5973.1995.tb00103.x).
And now, Issayas has inserted his nose into the Somalia issue by supporting the Union of Islamic Courts (UICs) of Somalia and the presence of Al Qaeda inside Somalia. In his recent tours to Egypt, Sudan and Iran Issayas has been lobbying support for Somali Islamists from the wider Arab communities in the Middle East and Northern Africa but with little attention.
The Eritrean Shaabia regime has been training thousands of radical Oromo Islamic terrorists (known as OLF), Ogden Somali Islamic terrorists (known as ONLF), and the so called Alliance for Democracy (AFD) political terrorists from Ethiopia at camps in Eritrea over the years immediately preceding the de facto Eritrean independence declaration of 1993. The secret training took place primarily at three camps--in Nakfa, Sahel, and Teo --and was directed by elite Eritrean military units. Many of the fighters were drawn from terrorist groups in Ethiopia, Sudan, and Somalia with close ties to al Qaeda, chief among them the Sudanese Islamic Army. Some 2,000 terrorists were trained at these Eritrean camps each year from 1999 to 2006, putting the total number at or above 14,000. Some of the Ethiopian home-grown terrorists returned to Asmara and are responsible for attacks against the interim Somali Government’s army, the Americans and the Ethiopians in recent weeks inside Somalia. (http://today.reuters.com/News/CrisesArticle.aspx?storyId=L13897046&WTmodLoc=IntNewsHome_C4_Crises-7). The presence of jihadist training camps in Eritrea would seem to have two major consequences: It exposes the fact that an infidel like the Eritrean dictator, Issayas Affeworki, works with Islamic radicals including well known jihadists. Suffice to bring the following Somali case in length for one’s understanding.
According to Somaliland Times - http://www.somalilandtimes.net/sl/2005/226/13.shtml, “… large quantities of arms have been provided through the Bakaraaha Arms Market (BAM) in Mogadishu, where they are purchased chiefly by the opposition alliance and militant fundamentalists. BAM played a key role as one of the sources of arms supply to the Mogadishu-based opposition alliance during repeated bouts of fighting between it and the militant fundamentalists in January, February and March 2006; they fought each other in a series of bloody engagements in Mogadishu and Afgooye, north-west of Mogadishu. As a result of the fighting, the arms, a widening circle of States have been providing arms and military-related support to Somalia in violation of the arms embargo. One among such states was Eritrea. “In its report of 4 October 2005 (see S/2005/625), the Monitoring Group … has been informed that another State in the region Eritrea provided support to the opposition and ONLF in the form of arms. That State provided arms to opposition allies including Sheik Yusuf Indohaadde (Governor of Lower Shabelle), Sheik Hassan Dahir Aweys (an Al Itihad leader) and others for the purpose of countering support provided to TFG by Ethiopia ... Credible sources alleged that from approximately the beginning of February to the end of the second week of May 2005, that State supplied arms on approximately eight different occasions to Hassan Dahir Aweys and elements of ONLF that at the time were located in the Dhusamareeb area of the Galgaduud region. The arms were transported on aircraft that flew from the State in question to an airfield located in the Dhusamareeb area. Hassan Dahir Aweys had traveled to that central Somalia location to establish sharia courts and to provide military training to his militia (Al Itihad) or set up military training programmes. While there he also met with representatives of OLF and ONLF. Some were militia leaders who arrived in Dhusamareeb by aircraft from the State in question in April 2005. Also, during the last week of April and the end of the second week of May 2005, approximately three flights transporting 270 trained and equipped ONLF militia arrived in Dhusamareeb from that State. Most of the shipments of arms provided during the first part of the period mentioned above were given to Hassan Dahir Aweys, with the smaller portion going to ONLF… The Monitoring Group also received credible information that the same State provided another member of the opposition, Sheik Yusuf Indohaadde, with arms by transporting them to two locations in Middle Shabelle — by aircraft to Baledogle Airport, near Mogadishu, and by ship to the port of Marka. Both shipments arrived between 25 March and 10 April 2005. Included among the types of arms in the shipments were anti-aircraft guns and mines … The Monitoring Group noted above that Sheik Indohaadde and other opposition leaders from Mogadishu had provided arms to Habsade, opposition leader in charge of Baidoa, for potential use against TFG forces in the fight for control of that city on 30 May 2005. Subsequent to the battle, the Monitoring Group obtained two metal ammunition containers and photographs of other ammunition containers that were alleged by Monitoring Group sources to have been provided by the State in question … The Monitoring Group has further learned that an opposition leader and TFG dissident from Mogadishu traveled to that State during the middle of the mandate period to make arrangements with authorities there to obtain arms shipments. The State allegedly promised to give arms only to the opposition and in quantities that equaled what TFG President Yusuf received from other countries… Sheik Yusuf Indohaadde arrived in Asmara on or about 14 November 2005 from Saudi Arabia. Indohaadde went to Eritrea to obtain assurances that arms would be supplied by the Eritrean authorities to the Al Itihad leadership in Mogadishu. Indohaadde returned to Somalia, arriving in Mogadishu on or about 21 November 2005… Also, on or about 14 November 2005, officials from the Eritrean Foreign Office who were posing as businessmen arrived in Mogadishu. The team met with Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys. The same delegation also met with the spokesman of the members of the transitional federal institutions in Mogadishu, Colonel Omar Hashi Adan. Colonel Hashi briefed them on the situation in Somalia and thereafter appealed for intensive Eritrean support to match the continuous assistance given to the Jowhar group by the Ethiopians. The Eritrean officials told Colonel Hashi to make his request to the Eritrean representative in Mogadishu. The delegation also expressed a keen interest in supporting the militant fundamentalists for the purpose of using them as a platform to mobilize and support an anti-Ethiopia agenda, also directed at the Ethiopian opposition elements (insurgent groups)…The Eritrean envoy in Mogadishu is Elias Haite Talaze. As his ability to move freely about Mogadishu is limited, he operates through an informal local network of people, including a number of local assistants. The envoy’s activities are dominated by dealings with dissident Ethiopian ethnic groups who are concentrated in Banaadir and the Lower Shabelle regions. Accordingly, he has been instrumental in developing good cooperation between the militants and the dissident ethnic groups…”
“During the current mandate period, the Government of Eritrea provided at least four separate consignments of arms, ammunition and military equipment to the militant fundamentalists in Somalia, as follows:
(a) Around 3 March 2006, an aircraft with registration number E-B69 transported the following arms, ammunition and military equipment directly from Asmara to Baledogle airport (Lower Shabelle region), Somalia:
(i) 200 boxes of Zu-23 ammunition (anti-aircraft);
(ii) 200 boxes of B-10 ammunition (anti-tank);
(iii) 200 boxes of DShK ammunition (anti-aircraft);
(iv) 200 boxes of Browning M2 .50 ammunition (heavy machine gun);
(v) Ammunition for ZP-39 (anti-aircraft);
(vi) 50 rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) launchers and boxes of ammunition (anti-tank);
(vii) 50 light anti-armor weapons;
(viii) 50 M-79 grenade launchers;
(ix) Communications equipment to be mounted on technical guadgets.
The consignment was delivered by Elias Haite Talaze to the Sheikh Abdisalan Ali Ibrahim, a military commander of the militant fundamentalists;
(b) Around 5 March 2006, an aircraft arrived at Baledogle airport from Eritrea, containing the following arms, ammunition and military equipment for the militant fundamentalists:
(i) 1,000 AK-47 (short version);
(ii) 1,000 pairs of binoculars;
(iii) 1,000 remote-control bombs;
(iv) 1,000 anti-personnel mines;
(v) Ammunition for 120mm mortar;
(c) Around 7 March 2006, and again around 14 March 2006, a dhow arrived from Eritrea at the port of El Ma’an, north of Mogadishu. The vessels contained ammunition for the militant fundamentalists…The Monitoring Group sent a letter to the Government of Eritrea on 27 March 2006 requesting its response concerning the arms shipments reported to have taken place around 3 and 5 March 2006. In reply to the Monitoring Group’s letter, the Government of Eritrea denied responsibility for the shipments of arms and characterized the Monitoring Group’s information as “outrageous”…Information concerning the arms shipments reported to have taken place around 7 and 14 March 2006 was not sent to the Government of Eritrea for a response, as the Monitoring Group received such information only after dispatch of its letter.” (Source Somalilandpatriots)
Eritrea supported the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) as a proxy war intended to destabilize Ethiopia. Eritrean soldiers have also been fighting on the front lines alongside the ICU, and that hundreds of Eritrean young soldiers have been killed In Late December 2006.
In a recent speech made by PM Meles Zenawi on Somalia, Meles told his parliament expressing that “… there is no problem with the people of Somalia. The problem is, with the top UIC-leadership, including Dahir Aweys …” In the same token Meles stated that “… there is also no problem with the people of Eritrea but only with 'the other Dahir Aweys …” in apparent reference to the notorious Issayas Afewerki, a man who has absolute control over any living being existing within the Eritrea soil.
A swift check of Eritrean forums these days indicates that Eritrean people are already playing with the idea of a repeat (in Eritrea) of what they have been witnessing in current Somalia. Already, there exists increasing size of opposition by Eritrean people in Diaspora to the tyrant Issayas Afeworki’s regime of Asmara (from virtually zero opposition during the hay days of the de facto Eritrean independence in 1993). However, the opposition is worried about carrying out a prolonged resistance for fear of civilian causalities within Eritrea. Basically, the various Eritrean opposition groups continue discussing the merits and demerits of attempting peaceful civil disobedience tactics and violent popular reactions to Shaabia as their methods of struggle. The Issayas Afeworki’s tyranny has been felt for some years but Eritrean opposition groups have not yet officially come out to the fore for fear of harassment.
Note: The author of the above article is an Independent Consultant on: Conflict Resolution, Good Governance, Humanitarian Aid and Urban and Rural Development Issues. The author can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org