Isaias Afwerki Interview: On British Nationals, Sanctions, Civil Society
In a wide-ranging interview broadcast on state media on Friday, Eritrea’s president Isaias Afwerki commented on the four British ex-Marines who have been detained in Eritrea since December 2010; the sanctions imposed by United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in December 2009, and the absence of civil society in Eritrea
President Isaias dismissed the British government’s request that his government comply with Geneva Conventions regarding its four nationals who were arrested after an exchange of gunfire in the Red Sea. “They had heavy weaponry, goggles, snipers…what were they doing there?” he said, equating their presence in Eritrea as that of a burglar in a house. The emphasis, he implied, should be on why the burglar is in the house, and not what his rights are now that he has been caught.
He said that although his government had not publicized it, there were also other incidents, particularly since gold was discovered in Bisha, of heavily armed people who, presumably, have been detained.
The British government says that its nationals are ex-Royal marines who were in the Red Sea to help shipping companies foil Somali pirates.
Regarding the UNSC-imposed sanctions of December 2009, Isaias Afwerki said that it should not be seen in isolation but a post Cold War campaign to control governments throughout the world: an inter-connected series of actions targeted not against his regime but the Eritrean people. He explained that the plan was to strengthen the “Diaspora [Eritrean] opposition” by emptying out the country of its youth, by intimidating leaders of “Eritrean [PFDJ] communities” to abandon their loyalty to the country [and to his government.] To their frustration, he said, this resulted in opposition by Eritreans, “not in the thousands, tens of thousands, but hundreds of thousands” who were self-organized to express their resistance to the sanctions.
Following its decision to sanction Eritrea, the UNSC established a Sanctions Committee, chaired by the Mexican ambassador to the UN, which has been accumulating evidence of the Isaias Afwerki regime’s involvement in training, funding and equipping extremist groups in Somalia. According to our sources, it is expected to issue its report very shortly, which is said to have strong and compelling evidence about the Eritrean regime’s heavy involvement in illicit fund transfers to Somalia—funds generated mostly from its network of human smugglers, including those who smuggle Eritrean youth by the thousands. At the very least, according to our sources, this will extend the sanctions for another year. Moreover, many of the PFDJ community leaders who have been approached by the US Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) have been “co-operating”—they have been disclosing every detail of the PFDJ’s money laundering schemes.
Referring to the absence of civil society in Eritrea, President Isaias Afwerki questioned why civil society is only needed in the Third World, why organizations like his National Union of Eritrean Women (NUEW)—whose leader is hand-picked by him, and whose members are also members of the party—are not considered civil society and said that given that the “civil society,” as understood by the West, are easily infiltrated by spies, and attempt to undermine the authority of the government by offering services that the government should, he has no interest in allowing them to operate.
Throughout the interview President Isaias often referred to his government’s action in the first-person singular—“I”—betraying them to be his personal decisions, then would revert quickly to the first person plural—“we”—to imply that they are collective decisions. Despite efforts to portray him in the best light, President Isaias Afwerki looks like he is suffering from an ailment.
The second part of the interview, which is conducted by a government media employee, is expected to air tonight at 8:00 pm local time. There are no independent press in Eritrea and many reporters, including government media reporters, have been made to “disappear” if they deviate too far from the party line.