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ADDIS ABABA — Addressing Eritrean professionals, intellectuals and political leaders in Addis Ababa on Friday, Prime Minister Meles reiterated that Eritrea posed a serious threat to the security of Ethiopia and to countries of the Horn Region. The Eritrean government was caught red-handed while plotting, executing, and overseeing subversive and terrorist acts on Ethiopia and its neighbors, Prime Minister Meles underlined. He was referring to Isaias’s reported plan to cause chaos and bloodshed in Addis Ababa in March when the African Union was holding a conference of heads of state in the Ethiopian capital.
He said tougher new UN sanctions will be slapped on the Eritrean regime as soon as the Security Council agrees on measures affecting foreign companies operating in the country.
In a bid to stave off measures that would stop President Isaias Afeworki from laying his hands on revenues from the country’s gold mines and from illicit money paid by nationals abroad, he is frantically seeking understanding from African leaders. His sudden diplomatic offensive is clearly too little too late. Immediately after his return home from a state visit to Uganda last month, President Musoveni issued a statement through his ambassador in Addis Ababa urging more stringent UN measures on Asmara. Unable to refute overwhelming UN and East Africa’s IGAD (Inter-governmental Authority for Development) charges against Eritrea, it is unlikely Isaias’s meeting in Bamaco over the weekend with Equatorial Guinea President Mbasogo, current AU Chairman, will change any African minds.
The Eritrean leader should grab the bull with the horn and face the forces that hold the key to the country’s future as well as his own, namely, the Eritrean people at home and the broad-based, energized democratic opposition front which is banned from operating inside the country. An increasing number of young conscripts and students fleeing the country are joining the front in the fight for a new Eritrea.
At the same time, the sanctions and international diplomatic pressures are having their toll on Isaias and his close advisors and cabinet ministers. According to reliable sources in Asmara, some of his ministers and loyal aides are openly expressing frustrations in fear that the country may be heading for the gutters.
The same sources describe a political atmosphere developing in Asmara in a manner somewhat similar to the one experienced at the end of2000 when the Isaias armed forces lost the war with Ethiopia and were pushed out of the border village of Badme which became an annoying symbol of personal failure for him. Consequently, in late 2001, Isaias staged a palace coup in which he put in jail almost all members of his cabinet including his de facto Vice President for questioning his leadership capabilities and for calling an end to his dictatorial methods.
How the current crisis will play out is yet to be seen. What is clear is that Isaias is fighting for his life and political survival. With an impoverished and enslaved population of 5 million, with over 300,000 disenchanted armed youths indefinitely serving in a hated national service, with a dysfunctional economy and estranged intelligentsia, Isaias fears Eritrea could be hit by a Tunisia or Libya type of revolution at any moment. Indeed the Eritrean government has become so hysterical that it has accused the Nobel Peace Prize winning human rights watchdog, Amnesty International, of inciting a people’s rebellion in the country – a charge vehemently denied by Amnesty.
By and large, the internal quandaries as well as the UN sanctions on Eritrea are of Isaias’s making because of his frustrated ambitions to be the undisputed regional leader and his hate and mistrust of the Meles Zenawi led TPLF/EPRDF government in Ethiopia for hampering his grandiose plans. He made the destruction of Zenawi’s rule as the only way if he is to stay in power and develop his country. Isaias tried to convince his people that his arming and funding of Al Qaeda-linked Al Shabab and rubbing elbows with extremists was in Eritrea’s national interest. He reportedly continues to arm and harbor rebels and extremists from Djibouti, Somalia, Sudan, and South Sudan, as well as Ethiopia, to try to blackmail the leaders of these countries and get them to bow to his whims and demands.
Now not only the African Union but also the UN and the superpowers identify the Isaias regime as a threat to regional and international peace and security. Isaias stands between a rock and a hard place with no easy answers. One option left is for him to start negotiations with his foe Meles Zenawi without preconditions putting everything on the table including the issue of dusty Badme. Meles told the just concluded conference of 62 Eritrean intellectuals and professionals including more than a dozen PhDs and Medical Doctors that he has no plan to leave Badme unless such a move guarantees peace for the peoples of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Meles thinks the ball is in Isaias’s court. Isaias feels it is in Meles’s court.
Asked by this reporter if Meles ever blames himself for what is wrong in Eritrea since he was once close to Isaias, he said “I did not create Isaias.” However, Meles said he did not believe Isaias would be good for post independent Eritrea given his record as liberation front leader in which he favored violent means to resolve conflicts and his lack of concern for human life.