In an interview with awate.com, Dr. Mirijam Van Reisen has answered one question that had thus far been made vague by the Eritrean attendants of the Brussels Conference: what was the selection criteria that her organization, the European External Policy Advisory (EEPA), used to assemble the Eritrean “reference group”? According to Dr. Van Reisen: the “EEPA had as a criteria that organizations represented should advocate a non-violent approach to change in the Horn, and also not be funded by any government in the Horn, and also should not be advocating a violent or military solution.”
So far, at least three Eritrean members of the self-styled “task force” have written extensively about the selection criteria and none had disclosed Dr. Van Reisen’s criteria. Indeed, in an interview conducted by Mr. Amanuel Eyasu of assenna.com, an Eritrean opposition website, Mr. Abdurahman Alsayed, the spokesperson of the “task force” was repeatedly asked to shed light on the selection criteria, and not once did he mention the pre-requisite offered by Dr. Van Reisen. [refer to translated excerpt of interview here.]
Asked by awate.com to explain the inconsistency, Mr. Abdurahman Alsayed has, as of the publication of this report, not offered an explanation. If and when he does, his side of the story will be inserted here.
There have been published reports that Awate.com was made aware of the Brussels Conference by the “task force” itself and that its lack of enthusiasm for the meeting was that it was “not invited.” These two statements are not based on facts. Awate.com was aware of the emerging (and exlusive nature) of the meeting before the task force was even formed as it had information of the meeting between Mr. Kassahun Checol, publisher of the Red Sea Press, and Dr. Van Reisen, two years ago. It couldn’t endorse or attend a meeting secretly organized by one half of the Eritrean body politic anymore than it would by the other half.
Dr. Van Reisen also explains that the funding for the conference came from her organization: that it received no aid from the EU, EC or USA and to the extent that there are reports that say so, they are erroneous reports. Asked if that includes the Indian Ocean Newsletter, ION, which had reported that the conference was funded by EuropeAid, an EU institution, Dr Van Reisen asserted: “Yes, their report is incorrect. EuropeAid did not fund the conference and it also did not initiate the conference. The conference was entirely our own (EEPA’s) intiative.”
Awate.com has contacted the reporter for the IOC, Francis Soler, who has indicated that he will “check with his source” on the veracity of his report.
Some Eritreans have been hard pressed to understand what is so objectionable about the EEPA conference, regardless of how the “task force” was composed since the net result is to advance the cause of the opposition. This question was posed to Mr. Amha Domenico, a veteran member of the Network of the Eritrean Civil Society (NECS), which has, since 2003, made incremental progress in having the EU treat Eritreans who are not aligned with the Eritrean government as worthy of having dialog with. He explains:
In the wake of the Unity Conference of May 2008, the NECS designed a strategy to have the opposition considered as a partner, an interlocutor of the EU. In September 2008, it presented its policy in a form of the document ‘Appeal to the EU” where it formally asked for a “Parallel Dialog EU-Eritrean Opposition”. The document was presented in an official encounter of several representatives of the Network and a top level EU group: personal representative of Barroso, personal representative of Michel and two members of DG Dev (Development Directorate general) actually the two people present in the Conference.
A few days after the meeting, the EU came back and announced that it has accepted the concept of “parallel dialog” and that it wanted to start the contact with the political opposition soon (contact with civil society was by then a well established practice.) In line with this, Beshir [Ishaq] and Adhanom [Gebremariam] were invited to Brussels and made their first officious contact with the EU at the DG Dev level to start with in September 2008. EDA had then presented a Memorandum, a written and comprehensive document. The understanding of all the parties EU and EDA and civil societies was to establish a UNITED front on the diplomatic level, and to engage in STREAMLINED relationship and dialog between the parties. It is also on this basis that relations have been established with other governments in the name of the EDA, like that of Belgium, Holland and France.
As a result of our work, explains Amha, the EU has “a policy of talking to all parties and opinion makers, within and outside the Government structures and will pursue its policy of broad dialogue.” What the EEPA and the “reference group” tried to do was to limit this to their partisan group of favored politicians “by delving into acts of spin, usurpation, instrumetalizion of international bodies and related gimmicks with the concrete end result of fracturing further the opposition, deepening the existing mistrust, and aggravating the great Divide of the Eritrean society as well as bolstering the damageable image of the divided and weak Eritrean opposition.”
In short, explains Amha Domenico, while the EU had, thanks to NECS, come to see the merit of dialoguing with ALL Eritrean organizations, the EEPA and their Eritrean “task force” are trying to influence the EU to limit its contact to their favored groups and political parties.