ADDIS ABABA, Dec 20, 2004 (Deki-Alula) — In what could be the latest victory for the Ethiopian people and opposition parties, a former senior Ethiopian government official and Tigray People’s Liberation Front, dominant party in the ruling coalition in Ethiopia (TPLF) dissident said Ethiopia’s natural frontier is the Red Sea.
Former Tigray Regional State President Gebru Asrat, who heralded the political breakthrough that has taken place within the TPLF community, long known for being the victim of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s sha’biyyah [Eritrean government] propaganda, declared:
“All efforts must be marshalled to restore the nation’s historical and legal right of ownership over the Red Sea.”
In a clear blow to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s Eritrea agenda, Gebru discarded the notion that Eritrea was a colony of Ethiopia. If it were, it is Ethiopia who must decide what Eritrea should and should not get.
The former politburo member of the ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) and president of Ethiopia’s northernmost Tigray region — Tigray Regional State — broke the news of a U-turn political decision in TPLF history during a lucid interview with the Voice of Ethiopia Radio in Stockholm, Sweden. Gebru said Meles was up to today prevailing on it, on promoting and fighting for Eritrean agenda.
“It has to stop, and we have to reverse that, and right the wrongs.”
Commenting on recent developments related to the so-called “peace initiative” by Meles, Gebru plucked out a point and said “normalization campaign” was another term for Eritrea’s return to an economic invasion of Ethiopia. Normalization would have no other meaning than legalizing the Eritrean regime’s right for the unbridled plunder of Ethiopian resources pre-1998 style.
Often cited by sha’biyyah circles as one of the most dangerous Ethiopian nationalists along with jailed and famed former Defence Minister Siye Abraha, Gebru Asrat said when sha’biyyah invaded Ethiopia, the EPRDF government reached a consensus the goal of which was to anchor durable peace in Ethiopia, and to achieve durability, the counter-offensive was centred on destroying sha’biyyah. “It was as clear as that.”
The critical decision was made after observing a characteristic pattern of violence by sha’biyyah to destabilize Ethiopia. Sha’biyyah suffers from a long-standing grand illusion of playing the role of a regional superpower whose foundation the regime wanted to build on resources plundered from Ethiopia, Sudan and other countries in the region, the former regional governor said. The only person opposed to the counter-drive was Meles Zenawi who from the start had created numerous obstacles.
“When the government’s stand was focused on how to punish the enemy, Meles had time to divide and turn over to his side some army commanders, and when he declared the war would be over in 24 hours with the liberation of Zela Ambesa [central front] (June 2000), we learned that he had been waiting to save sha’biyyah, and his commitment to serve Eritrea at expense of Ethiopia was lasting.
“We knew he had committed a crime, and when we convened a meeting with him, he reversed the situation and charged us with “corruption and anti-democracy activities”. This led to the split of TPLF in two, with Meles taking the law into his hands and purging those of us who accused him of treason, Gebru Asrat said.
Asked to elaborate on when did the rift with Meles begin to surface within TPLF, Gebru said:
“Differences with Meles began to shape up as early as 1997 when TPLF Executive Committee members tried to convince him that sha’biyyah was preparing to invade Ethiopia. We had substantial evidence that sha’biyyah was engaged in extensive military preparations against us, notably after sha’biyyah’s request that its currency be traded on equal terms in Ethiopia was rejected, and sha’biyyah saw no future of survival but to impose its will by force. Despite tangible evidence that sha’biyyah’s invasion was imminent, Meles vilified the warnings, saying “sha’biyyah is not insane to invade Ethiopia.”
When war broke out, there was a unanimous decision that Ethiopian defence capability must be boosted within a short time. To sabotage Ethiopia’s drive for reinforced defence system, however, Meles continued to be a thorn in the flesh. He used “sanctions” as a scare tactic and warned “the United Nations, IMF and World Bank would impose sanctions from which we will never emerge from the economic devastation”. Gebru said Meles was almost alone and no-one bought his warnings.
Asked if there were blunders the TPLF made during its existence as part of the government, the dissident bluntly admitted there were many, among of which were the conduct of the referendum on Eritrea by excluding the Ethiopian people in the affairs of their country, resolving the Eritrean question as a colonial question, and EPRDF’s handing over of the Red Sea frontier of the country to Eritrea without taking the future of Ethiopia into consideration, and TPLF’s or EPRDF’s failure or lack of respect for the people’s right to exercise their full democratic rights.
Gebru Asrat said the dissidents and he reviewed the political journey of TPLF, including the blunders committed and the lessons they learned over time. He said a draft political programme was currently circulating in the society, and hoped the group would emerge as strong partners of the democratic forces in the country.
Given the multitude of evidences that Meles was subservient to Eritrea, Gebru was asked why it took the dissidents a long time to understand the problems. He said:
“Our organization was highly secretive and we were governed by anti-democratic rules that had negative repercussions on our future activities as government officials. For instance, when we assumed power in 1991, it did not occur to us that we had to respect Ethiopia’s sovereignty right over the Red Sea port of Assab. We took Eritrean President Isayas Afewerki for his word and handed him the two ports when he said the ports would remain free for the two peoples. There was a complete disregard on our part on this critical issue. When we reviewed our past performance from the advantage of the experience we gained and the lessons we learned over the years, we knew Ethiopia has been systematically deprived of her natural and historical right. We want to reverse that, he asserted.
Observers say the new political stance made by the dissidents, most notably their stand on Ethiopia’s legal and historical right for the restoration of its sovereignty over the Red Sea must be considered as an added impetus on the unity of Ethiopians. Political observers say Gebru and other dissidents still command huge respect in their former constituency of Tigray region, and according to some, the respect was largely earned for the role they played, along with the Ethiopian people, during the 1998-2000 counteroffensive against Eritrea, and for confronting Eritrean agent Meles Zenawi.
When Voice of Ethiopia in Stockholm finally asked Gebru “how do you describe Meles?” Gebru said:
“A man bent on serving Eritrea at the expense of Ethiopia in particular, and foreign forces in general.
Material from the BBC Monitoring Service, original version of this text is avaible at http://www.dekialula.com