Alleged Consultation to Form a Military Wing Unfounded
Gedab Investigative Report: On July 30, 2021, an Eritrean website reported about a “consultation between Eritrean entities.” It further reported that “several Eritrean opposition organizations were engaged in preparatory meeting to form “a wide political and military entity to topple the Asmara regime.” It added, “the Khartoum consultations is led by Mesfin Hagos, an ex-Eritrean defense minister, and Haile Menkerios, the previous international ambassador and diplomat…it’s expected the consultations will result in the creation of a military force composed of several military wings with direct regional support as a result of the repercussions of the [Eritrean Government’s] policies in relation to the regional countries and its military intervention in the inter-Ethiopian conflict.”
Immediately after the above news appeared, Eritrean and other writers magnified the report without verifying it. Thus, “the news worsened the already prevailing mistrust among the Eritrean opposition groups and left many confused.”
Also, the above news appeared in a few hours after the official PFDJ website reported that “Senior Eritrean delegation comprising Mr. Osman Saleh, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Presidential Advisor Mr. Yemane Gebreab met with Mr. Abdalla Hamdok” in Khartoum.
Gedab News embarked on a task to verify the news and today it is sharing its findings.
A pure coincidence made some observers think the alleged “consultation meeting” and the visit by the Eritrean foreign ministry duo, Osman Saleh and Yemane Gebreab to khartoum were related. However, Sudanese diplomatic sources told Gedab News the visit by the Eritrean government delegates to Sudan was to discuss the Ethiopian conflict and get support for its attempt to mediate between Sudan-Egypt, and Ethiopia, over the Renaissance Dam.
Prime Minister Hamdouk’s government “appreciated the gesture but nicely rejected the offer,” for fear of contradiction since Sudan holds the current IGAD chairmanship and was pursuing related initiatives of its own.
Observers also said, “Hamdouk and Abiy Ahmed had agreed to carry the consultations in secret.” However, last week the Ethiopian prime minister’s spokesperson said, “Sudan does not have the credibility to mediate in the dispute between the government and TPLF.” She added that “Sudan must first withdraw its troops from Ethiopian territories before playing any negotiation roles.”
A tense situation prevails around the Fashga region since December 2010 when fighting between the two countries flared for a few weeks after which Sudan deployed its troops in the region. The fighting around Fashga, and the eight-month inter-Ethiopian fighting, has displaced tens of thousands of refugees in addition to the tens of thousands of Eritrean and Ethiopian refugees Sudan has been hosting since the mid 1960s.
The PFDJ Appeared in the Rumor Radar
The July 30, 2021, visit by Yamane Gebreab and Osman Saleh to Khartoum and meeting Hamdok was the anchor and trigger for the speculation that developed into a serious rumor. Yet, the rumor equally rattled the PFDJ and the Eritrean opposition. That rumor found another boost: around the same time, Haile met USA officials in Washington to advise them on the current situation in the Horn of Africa, which he always does. These incidents were the background of the unfounded speculation of forming an Eritrean armed wing.
Last July Mesfin Hagos traveled to Sudan on an invitation by individuals who allegedly have ties with officials inside Eritrea. He arrived in Khartoum on his own, at least a week before Menkerios arrived there on a private trip. A few days earlier, Mesfin was seen with at least two opposition members in a social setting and that was misconstrued as a planned consultation meeting and rumors were woven around it.
The rumors grew to include Hussein Khelifa, the third party to the alleged “consultation meeting” with Haile and Mesfin. However, Hussein who lives in Sudan and often travels to Khartoum, was not in the city when the alleged meeting took place. Neither had Menkerios and Mesfin met at that point.
Considerable number of opposition members are “disappointed by the low regard Haile Menkerios has for the Eritrean opposition, particularly the traditional organizations.” However, reportedly he often meets with select people and “drops their names in conversations.” They don’t explain how he could have low regard for the opposition in general but keeps his relations with select groups from the same opposition groups who are member of the ENCDC, an Eritrean opposition umbrella formed in 2012. Often, “Haile avoids appearing in public with opposition members since that would jeopardize the high-stake consultancy jobs he does for many governments and international entities.”
Considering Haile’s stellar resume, it’s natural that many Eritreans in the opposition have high hopes on him; they “couldn’t believe the Eritrean opposition is not in his priority list.” However, Haile is unapologetic and clearly states he is focused on keeping a neutral position due to the sensitivity of his job and career. However, though he denies any involvement in the Eritrean opposition, he peeks in every now and then leaving the opposition confused more than the last time he peeked in. Worse, several people accuse him of making damaging and disparaging remarks when politicians in the region ask him about the Eritrean opposition. Some leaders of the opposition allege, “Haile has always been for removing Isaias Afwerki and a handful of his lieutenants while leaving the PFDJ intact and then reforming it.”
The meeting that Mesfin Hagos had in Khartoum with a few Eritreans in their individual capacity was the source of the initial “military consultation” report. However, it’s unclear whether the report was the speculation of the reporters or a purposely leaked misinformation with a goal to bolster the status of some political organizations.
Hussein Khelifa travelled to Khartoum almost a week after the reported meeting. A close friend of both said, “whenever Mekerios and Hussein are in Khartoum, they meet and chat on many issues; Hussein’s issues are an obsession with the opposition’s affairs, which he has been serving for decades.” Currently Hussein is the president of the legislative body of the ELF which is a member of the ENCDC.
The Subjects of the Rumor
Ambassador Haile Menkerios (74): A Veteran Turned International Diplomat, is involved in diplomatic missions in the region and frequently travels to the countries of the Horn of Africa, especially Sudan. In addition to his work travels, Haile his familial ties in the Sudan and he is an old friend and colleague of prime minister Abdulla Hamdok.
Mesfin Hagos, (74): an EPLF Veteran War Hero, joined the Eritrean struggle in the mid-1960s under the banner of the ELF. Since 2000, he has been living in exile in Germany. Mesfin’s military prowess is unquestionable, and his name is raised with an admiration by many who fought under his command. Currently he is a member of an organization formed after the merger of three smaller groups, which is part of a coordination structure the ENCDC and its allies created in Sweden in 2020.
Hussein Khelifa (78): An able commander of the liberation struggle, Hussein has seen it all since his adulthood when he was sent to [Iraq] where he graduated as an army officer. He kept climbing the command ladder. He always fought against the fragmentation of the ELF but remained loyal to the ELF even during trying times when the EPLF and TPLF collaborated to finally push the ELF into the Sudan in 1982. In the nineties he worked with other allies in the formation of several opposition umbrella groups and finally attended the Hawassa conference where the ENCDC umbrella of the Eritrean opposition was created. Recently he was elected as the president of ELF’s legislative body.
Reported by ME (Canada) Abraham T (USA) Abselab (Khartoum) and edited by Awate Staff