The Chronology of Eritrea’s Reform Movement (2000-2001)
On December 5, 2002, the Awate Team published an article entitled “The Chronology of The Reform Movement”, which we introduced with the words “The following is a chronicle of the reform movement…” It covers the period of August 2000–the beginning of the reform movement–to December 2001. Of course, Eritreans’ call for reform is as old as our politics, so why is September 18, 2001 significant? And it hasn’t stopped after September 18, 2001: thousands continue to call for reform and then get arrested, are made to disappear or are exiled. So, again, why is September 18, 2001 significant?
Prior to September 18, 2001, all the horrendous crimes of the Revolution and the Government could be dismissed with: what is your evidence? What evidence is there that this crime you are alleging happened? In this particular case, September 18, 2001, that convenient dismissal is not available to the criminals in power: (a) those arrested and the causes they espoused were given wide publicity in Eritrean and international media; (b) those arrested and made to disappear are well-known individuals (including former cabinet members); (c) the criminals have persisted in their crime: they have not brought the arrested to a court of law, they have not passed a sentence, they have not allowed family members to visit them, they have not confirmed to their families if they are alive or dead. In short, September 18, 2001 is significant because anybody who knows the difference between good and evil, right and wrong, has no choice but to conclude that what “the government” has perpetrated is wrong. And if it can be this cruel to its own colleagues, then, anybody who can use facts and reason must conclude that it is just as likely, if not more likely, to commit the same abuse of power–arrest without charge, disappearance, failure to account for citizens, denying families visitation rights–to thousands of anonymous Eritreans.
It has been twelve years since September 18, 2001. Cruel regimes like the one in Eritrea depend on the human capacity to forget, to mis-remember, to be overwhelmed by life. They actually expect–and, unfortunately, succeed in their expectations–that new headlines, new gruesome details, new meaningless maneuvers (rotating ministers and party officials, for example) will distract us from our primary goal: justice. Cruel regimes even try to confuse people about the meaning of “justice” by focusing on its layers–social justice, economic justice–or using standards that are alien to the people’s values. In Eritrea’s traditional society–its faith and culture–justice is based on morality and ethics. On the other hand, the Eritrean regime has repeatedly said that “we have our own culture” of dealing with prisoners: the culture they are referring to is one incubated during the Revolution: it is a form of “justice” more concerned with preventing future “crimes” (by setting a scary example) than actually dealing with the present alleged transgression. This ends up achieving two things: creating a frightened society and an abusive government. An open air prison where the people are too afraid to think, to innovate, to produce: they are just serving. Serving an undeclared sentence, serving a government, until such time that it becomes unbearable and they will take any risk, pay any price, to leave their own country. The abusive government which is more concerned about future crimes than past crimes–it has defined justice to mean creating an obedient citizenery–continues to be incrementally more abusive until there is a time when the people are on the verge of rebellion. Then, the boss of the mafia regime rotates people in an attempt–one more time–to convince the people that there is nothing wrong with his vision, or his policies; there is failure in execution. And each game of musical chairs has a diminishing return because some chairs are permanent–no matter the rotation–and because people know in their hearts that the problem is not the people executing the policies but the policies themselves.
It is this culture–the culture of secrecy, the culture of political nepotism, the culture of the permanent ruling oligarchy, the culture of power abuse, the culture of lack of institutionalism, the culture of punishment/reward based not on merit but the moods of a moody dictator–that the victims of September 18, 2001 were trying to change. They were trying to reform an unjust system. And this is why you should know their story.
The following is a chronicle of the reform movement that emerged from within the PFDJ as well as academic and scholars sympathetic to the PFDJ. We think, in this day and age where facts and truth are in short supply, we owe it to our readers to give them a factual representations of the events that began on August 2000.)
August and September 2000: the Central Office of the PFDJ and the National Assembly of Eritrea hold two sessions. The PFDJ Central Office prepares an “assessment” of the Eritrea-Ethiopia war and presents it to members of the Central Committee. The assessment states, “We should not deny that some senior cadres and leaders of the front had exhibited spirit of despair and defeatism…we should identify its origins and the appropriate solutions.” Members of the Central Committee argue that the Central Office does not have the authority to level accusations against the members of the Central Committee. A decision is made to make a more comprehensive assessment for submission to the next session of the Central Committee. The National Assembly decides on Eritrea’s first election: December 2001 and appoints a committee, headed by Mahmoud Sherifo, Vice-President, to draft the electoral and party formation laws.
October 1, 2000: Having met in Germany in the last week of September, thirteen Eritrean scholars and professionals, later known as “G-13”, who reside in Europe, the United States, Eritrea and South Africa, write a letter to President Isaias Afwerki. The letter, which was leaked and came to be as the “Berlin Manifesto” spoke of a nation whose government is beset by “serious contradiction and a major rift among the leadership” and called for a sober appraisal of post-war Eritrea. It called for national reconciliation, collective leadership, implementation of the ratified constitution, abolishing the “Special Court”, divesting the ruling party from the economic life of Eritrea and called on the President to seize the moment to turn a crisis into an opportunity to “re-claim your hard-earned reputation.” The letter was signed by Araya Debessay (USA); Assefaw Tekeste (USA); Bereket Habte Selassie (USA), Dawit Mesfin (UK), Haile Debas (USA); Kassahun Checole (USA); Khaled Beshir (USA), Miriam M. Omar (UK); Mohammed Kheir Omar (Norway); Mussie Misghina (Sweden); Paulos Tesfagiorgis (Eritrea); Reesom Haile (Brussels) and Lula Ghebreyesus (South Africa.) The latter withdrew her association shortly after signing the document.
October 14, 2000: Seven journalists employed with the private Eritrean press were arrested. They include Milkias Mehretab, Yousef Mohammed Ali, Dawit Habtemichael, Yebio Gebremedhin, Selam Menghis, Mathewos and Semret Asmelash. The government denied that their arrest was due to the fact that their papers publicized the “Berlin Manifesto.”
November 8, 2000: Saleh Kekya, who had served as the Chief Administrator of the president’s office and later as Eritrea’s Ambassador to the Sudan before taking the transportation and communication portfolio, was transferred to the mayorship of the port city of Assab. The Minister refused the assignment.
January 1, 2001: Dawit Mesfin, a participant in the meeting held in Germany that resulted in the “Berlin Manifesto”, is interviewed by Awate.com shortly after his return from Asmara. Mr. Dawit Mesfin, along with ten signatories of the Berlin Manifesto, had traveled to Asmara, at the invitation of President Isaias Afwerki, to discuss the issues they raised in their letter. Dawit Mesfin describes the meeting the group had with President Isaias Afwerki on November 25, 2000 as a “gate crashing experience”from the standpoint that it actually took place. However, in terms of content, about an hour of the time was spent discussing the leaking of the private letter.
January 2001: the Government of Eritrea circulates a “discussion paper” to select senior cadres and leaders of the ruling party. Entitled “Woyane’s Third Offensive And the Political Campaign That Followed It,” the paper, which was leaked to several Eritreans and Eritrean media outlets, described its purpose as an attempt to “assess the political climate that followed the Third Offensive and to expose the campaign of confusion and to challenge the budding negative commentary.” The paper, whose source later turned out to be the PFDJ’s Central Office, claims that the problem is not that the President exercises too much control, but that there was insufficient control of the ministries. The paper assessed (1) The War and Its Origins; (2) Eritrea’s Diplomatic State of Affairs; (3) Eritrea’s Economic & Social Development; (4) Implementation of Eritrea’s Constitution & Democracy; (5) The Front & Its Role. The paper’s conclusion included the following assessment:
In this destructive campaign, it is expected that the Woyane would be vanguard. It is a campaign that it has embarked on, and an effort it has accelerated, since the day after the conflict and for the last two and half years. We can skip over the role of the traitors who collaborated with Woyane by saying it is no different from Woyane. As for those who, in the midst of trying and challenging times, were jockeying and hustling about to exploit the situation by selling national and people’s interest for self-interest, we have seen many of these opportunists in our long struggle. What demands attention, although very few in number, is the [presence of] cadres and leaders of the Front who, for various reasons (panic, hopelessness, absconding responsibility, to create political opportunities by complaining about lack of position and authority) participated in the campaign.
January 19, 2001: Major-General Berhane Gebrezgabhier is fired from his duties as Chief of the Eritrean National Reserve.
February 7, 2001: Mr Mahmoud Sherifo, the Vice President of Eritrea, the Minister of Local Governments and the National Assembly-appointed Chair of the Committee to Draft Electoral Laws, was fired by the President and his subordinates (the Regional Governors) ordered to report directly to the President’s Office.
March 8, 2001: Mr. Haile Menkorios, Eritrea’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, accepts a position with United Nation as the Secretary General’s envoy to Afghanistan.
April 6, 2001: tSigenai, a private Eritrean newspaper, interviews Mr. Mahmoud Sherifo. States that his removal from office on February 5, 2001 was on the eve of the date that the committee he chaired, the Committee on Drafting Political Parties & Organizations, had a scheduled meeting to discuss the obstacles it had faced from the President’s office in carrying out its duties. The former minister explained that the committee was authorized by and accountable to the National Assembly, which had authorized its work at its 13th Regular Session (9/00). The committee had concluded its first draft on January 23, 2001, had disseminated copies of the draft to members of National Assembly members and had, via a request to the Ministry of Information, scheduled interviews with the government media for January 30, 2001. Said Sherifo: “Suddenly, on January 29, 2001, we were told by the President to refrain from disseminating any information. While we kept our counsel to be patient and go on preparing to inquire about these developments, we received a message from the President. And the message informed us that the President has major observations on the draft laws and that he would set the schedule on when to disseminate the information to the public.” Sherifo added that the “responsibility we were given by the National Assembly was snatched.” Asked why he thought the president would do that, Sherifo replied: “I think it is because the President has no desire to see the formation of political parties before the elections scheduled for the end of the year.”
April 12, 2001: The First Comprehensive Manifesto for Reform, penned by “Tesfay-Sherif”, a pseudonym for “one or more” PFDJ Reformers surfaces. This manual, written shortly after the end of the Eritrea-Ethiopia war, it the first detailed glimpse at the issues raised by the Dissenters. It goes through an extensive assessment of the ruling party’s practices and their impact on the Eritrea-Ethiopia war.
On Obstacles to Institutionalism: “The most important problem hampering the establishment of institutionalization lies in freezing the constitution. It is evident that revolutionary traditions and mentality dominated the thinking of our leadership.”
On Why the national assembly is a “mere puppet”: “The National Assembly does not even have an office and does not hold regular sessions. It is presided by the President of the state who calls for sessions to convene whenever he wishes to do so. The purposes of most of the meetings are for enlightenment about developments or for hearing the reports of the cabinet of ministers and for approving them. The meetings have never come out with resolutions with the exception of pointing out, in the concluding communiqué’, to the importance of the issues that were discussed. There hasn’t been any voting system and the national assembly has never asked executive personnel or taken disciplinary steps to correct him as a legislative body controlling the executive body would be expected to do. It is only the President that is mandated with the first and last say on the concluding statements of the assembly. I think the basic reason for all these lies in the Marxists traditions of the organization and the negligence of those in charge towards the magnitude of their responsibilities. Moreover, the strength of the personality of the President and his inclination towards contempt of institutionalization and towards dwarfing the capabilities of his companions as well as his interest in having a say on everything, has greatly contributed to rendering the institution a mere puppet.”
On our relationships with:
(1) Saudi Arabia: “We started our first homework as an independent state with a fierce attack upon Saudi Arabia in our mass media,”(2) OAU “ followed by an attack upon the OAU at its regular summit held in Cairo in 1993.” (3) Arab League: “We also attacked, through statements made by our highest government officials, the Arab League of Nations expressing contempt on its role and effectiveness. (4) Sudan: “We severed our diplomatic relations with the Sudan abruptly and threatened to overthrow the regime in a few months inconsiderate of our interests in this neighboring state where a third of our population still live as refugees, employees and traders in different towns and villages within its borders. The reason that we claimed was the support given by the Sudanese government to the Eritrean Jihad group which is essentially superficial since this group does not possess the popularity that may enable it to threaten the stability of our nation and society. (5) Others: “Moreover, our language of describing the international system of relations was so blunt that it roused the anger of the great powers. We described the international system by saying; ‘the collapse of the Eastern block and the domination of the world by one country has resulted into a relationship of subjugation among states’. Such statements were said by high-ranking government officials although everybody may read that such statements did not coincide with the reality of our tiny developing country. However, such statements may reflect the stuffed grudges of the poor countries, which necessarily alerts the rich western countries that view the new world order as the culmination of a perfect social system. (6) NGO’s: “The expulsion of NGOs and their description as immoral and inhuman was the peak of our challenging encounter with the western powers that view them as the most important means of materializing the new world order. (7) Ethiopia: the only country that we trusted was Ethiopia in spite of the knowledge of every cadre in the organization and its leadership that the TPLF had evil plans which it demonstrated in the eighties in an undisputed manner…” When the president said, “we are thinking beyond what is called the border” and Ctwe are ready to found a confederation with Ethiopia” he did “not represent the thinking of the organization’s cadres or the feelings of the Eritrean people who could not forget the wounds of the past just because an ethnic minority which congratulated Eritrean independence, not because it could change the developments on the ground but because it would have been the first loser of opposing Eritrea’s independence, has come to power in Ethiopia.”
On Ignoring The Warning Signs from Ethiopia:
Issues such as claiming the ownership of “Badime” and “Bada” are nothing new. These claims started in the eighties although there was an intentional negligence from our side, for which we do not know the reasons. Moreover, the Ethiopians were unilaterally demarcating the places and creeping gradually towards the Gash River, probably to materialize the ancient map of old Tigray known as “Mereb- Milash”. Since 1994, the administrations of the Gash Barka region as well as our consulate in Mekele were sending reports notifying of developments concerning this issue. These reports were, however, neglected with contempt by the concerned government authorities in Eritrea and were viewed as the result of unjustified emotions. The activities of changing the marks across the border by the Tigrayan militias were described as being the deeds of some fanatics in the Zonal Administration and were not adopted by the TPLF, which was taken as a strategic friend, as an organization. In 1997 there came a new development as all the Eritrean inhabitants were deported from Badime in an organized manner. This incident was pictured by the Eritrean Television which also conducted some interviews with the deportees but the program was prohibited from being broadcast. The village of Adi-Murug in the Bada area was also occupied in about the same time.
On the Role of The “Council of Ministers”:
The Council of Ministers is totally ineffective. Any member in the council of ministers is appointed and expelled to and from the council by a letter from the President for reasons that are exclusively known only to the President. The Council does not have regular meetings and its sessions are limited to each Minister presenting the report of his Ministry and to listening to a briefing by the President on the current situation of the country. Major national issues such as foreign, security and economic policies are not discussed seriously.
On the Role of one-party state:
“…the non‑existence of political forces that compete with the PFDJ has caused a stagnation in the operational development of the efficiency of the organization and the government which became the main reason for administrative procrastination, nepotism, corruption and bureaucratic retard ness as well as the negligence towards the crucial issues of the development of the nation and the society.”
May 2, 2001: Mr. Beraki Gebreslassie, the Eritrean Ambassador is called back to Eritrea. Mr. Beraki Gebreslassie was the Minister of Information prior to his to assignment to Germany. No assignments were given to him when he returned to Eritrea.
May 21, 2001: tSigenai: Interview With Mesfun Hagos. On meetings: What is stipulated in the transitional constitution of the PFDJ is that the Executive Committee should schedule and attend a monthly meeting. In reality, it has never met monthly. Everyone knows this.” On checks and balances: “… it is always the case that the Legislature controls the Executive institution. In our experience, all the transitional constitutions that were adopted at the congresses of the Popular Front mention this process. As for its practical execution, that is a different matter.” On bequeathing power to the people: “It is not acceptable to itemize unacceptable reasons for delaying giving power to the people.” On his view of the intra-leadership dispute: “To exaggerate the differences above what is appropriate is not proper. Although the official press presents the problem as non-existent, in the streets, the threats by some of those who are pointing these out [the differences] is not good for the country. Internal disputes are solved by discussion and understanding not by threats and intimidation.”
May 24, 2001: In its inaugural issue, Shaebia org writes a conciliatory comment regarding the intra-PFDJ dispute.]
May 27, 2001: Fifteen members of the Central Committee of PFDJ [Eritrea’s ruling party] as well as Eritrea’s National Assembly signed an Open Letter to all PFDJ members. In the Open Letter, the authors, all prominent members of Eritrea’s liberation movement, accused the President of the Republic of Eritrea, Mr. Isaias Afwerki, of “conducting himself in an illegal and unconstitutional manner.” The group, which later came to be known as “G-15”, or Reformers, called on the President to convene a meeting of Central Committee and the National Assembly so that the two bodies may conduct open discussion and extensive assessment of the Eritrea-Ethiopia war. The 15 signatories are: (1) Mahmud Ahmed Sheriffo (2) Haile Woldensae (3) Mesfin Hagos (4) General Ogbe Abrha (5) Hamid Hmd (6) Saleh Kekya (7) Brigadier General Estifanos Seyoum; (8) Berhane GhebreEghzabiher; (9) Astier Feshatsion; (10) Mohammed Berhan Blata; (11) Petros Solomon; (12) Germano Nati; (13) Beraki Ghebreslassie; (14) Adhanom Ghebremariam and (15) Haile Menkerios.
May 31, 2001: Meqaleh, a private Eritrean newspaper, conducts an interview with Major General Berhane Gerezgheir. The general says that on January 11, he was informed, verbally, by the Ministry of Defense that he was demoted and his rank taken. On Janauary 12, he wrote a letter to President Isaias Afwerki, demanding a written explanation for the demotion because he believes that the honor he had was not a gift but a result of 30 years of struggle. On January 20, the President’s office informed the General that the President was not willing to receive the letter and that it should be directed to the Ministry of Defense. On February 6, he wrote a letter to the Ministry of Defense and as of the date of the interview, he had not received a response. He says that in the past 7-8 years, he knows of fighters who have been “frozen” –paid but unemployed–“for a year, for two years, for five years and more.”
June 2, 2001: MeQaleh reports about an address by Yemane Gebreab, PFDJ Political Director and Presidential Advisor, given to a session of the youth and students held at the Junior Club, regarding the open dispute within the PFDJ leadership. The paper reports that he said, “Over the last ten years, we have been solving our internal disputes. This, too, we shall solve and move on.” Asked repeated questions on the subjects by attendants, particularly from Eritreans who arrived from foreign countries, Mr. Yemane Gebreab said, “ please forgive me as I am unable to say more on the subject.”
June 7, 2001: The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) writes Eritrea’s Justice Minister, Fozia Hashim, inquiring of the whereabouts of 15 journalists. The Justice Minister reports that they are either currently participating in national service or working for the government media or ministries.
June 8, 2001: President Isaias Afwerki fires the Minister of Trade and Industry, Mr. Haile Weldense (Drue) and the Minister of Marine Resources, Mr. Petros Solomon. Mr. Haile Weldense was the Foreign Minister during the two-year war with Ethiopia. Both were signatories to the Open Letter, which was critical of President Isaias Afwerki.
June 10, 2001: MeQaleh publishes an “Open Letter to the Eritrean People” written by Major General Berhane Gebrezgheir.] In this follow-up to his interview of May 31, 2001, the General explains that his complaint is not about his demotion but wants to clarify that the measures taken against him were as a direct result of his speaking up at the sessions of the Central Committee and National Assembly meetings of August and September 2000 respectively. He says, “The Eritrean people have the right and the capability to know the truth and to propose solutions.”
June 11, 2001: Tsigenai: Interview with Petros Solomon. Excerpts: “ When confronted with criticism, it is not useful to think only in terms of digging up trenches and launching counter-offensives….criticism should be accepted with an open heart and an environment of tolerance….institutionalism is the best approach to decision-making…nobody or no institution has a monopoly on wisdom and foresight….The mandate of the Special Court has lapsed and it should cease because, at this time, it is incompatible with the letter and the spirit of the Constitution.”
June 11, 2001: Keste Debena, a private Eritrean newspaper, publishes General Uqbe Abraha’s Open Letter. The letter was in response to an article that appeared in the June 9, 2001 issue of Hadas Ertra, the government newspaper, reporting the findings of the Special Court, in the case of Mr. Tekeste Tesfatsion, who was an employee of the Red Sea Trading Corporation, or 09, the ruling party’s business conglomerate. The General states that he had requested the right of rebuttal in the government newspaper and that he had been denied the opportunity, which forced him to use the private press. The Special court claimed that the accused was “given illegal access to trade on the basis of commission by the then-senior managers of 09, Mr. Oqbe Abraha and Desu TesfatSion.” In the open letter, General Uqbe proclaims his innocence and adds: “I have the right to defend myself, relying on truth and the law, in an independent court of law so I won’t be condemned for wrongs I did not commit.” General Uqbe states that when he complained to the last session of the Central Committee (8/2000) about the government’s decision to deny him from exercising “the right and the duty to serve my government and my people” and that “the act of ‘freezing’ has induced mental stress which is a violation of my human rights,” the Central Committee had agreed to investigate the matter. He believes the act of the Special Court is illegal as it undermines the work of the Central Committee and that this “goes to show, in my opinion, the preparatory work that is being undertaken for future steps against me.”
June 14, 2001: Eritrean journalists Alazar Kelit and Amanuel Zerzghi (New York) interview Ambassador Haile Menkorios. Ambassador Haile calls for tolerance. He says: “One may oppose an opinion; but it is not constructive to accuse someone of sub-nationalism and anti-national for refusing to march in step lock.” Later on, he cancels a scheduled interview because he believes it is not constructive to polarize Eritreans into supporters and critics of the Reform movement and that he has come to believe that the interview would do just that. He concludes his explanation by saying that he will neither nominate himself nor accept other’s nomination of him for any political office.
June 17, 2001: AFP reports that Petros Solomon calls for “new generation of leaders” in Eritrea. He says Eritrea needs “more flexible leadership that will be more tolerant of opinions from different political organisations, which will be more responsive to the demands of the people.” He describes the PFDJ as “a fighting, secretive, and rigid organization.”
June 22, 2001: Al-Hayat interviews President Isaias Afwerki. The President says he cannot comment on whether there is any validity to the claims of the Reformers as outlined in their Open Letter and that the judgment is up to the Eritrean people and that it is best that he exercise patience until then. He added that there was nothing new to the issues raised by the Reformers and that he considers their open letter an empty barrel that makes a loud noise and that he has warned them of the dangers to the national security. With respect to distribution of authority, he said that the problem is not that he exercises too much authority but that, in the past, there wasn’t sufficient monitoring of others. He also said that the firing of Ministers Haile Weldensaie and Petros Solomonhad nothing to do with the prevailing environment. He also defended the Special Court and dismissed its critics as irrelevant.
June 20, 2001: BBC reports that at a ceremony to mark the annual Eritrea Martyr’s Day, President Isaias Afwerki announces the number killed in the Eritrea-Ethiopia war that concluded a year earlier to be 19,000. No number of wounded or POW was given.
June 20, 2001: Asmarino.com (www.asmarino.com) posts a May 10, 2001 interview President Isaias Afwerki conducted with Eritrea’s free press. Dubbed as “48 Questions in 6 Hours”, the interviewers report that the President said: “There is no such thing as freezing. I have never heard of anything called freezing.” I know nothing of the claim that “there is a great deal of difference amongst the leadership of the PFDJ.” “I am amazed by what Mahmoud Sherifo said in the interview with Tsigenay.” And that, “if there are people in authority or leaders of the Front who abdicated their responsibilities, they must have forgotten their duties. If there are those who did not do their job well, or those who did wrong, or made mistakes, they should be asked to account for it.
June 20, 2001: Asmarino.com posts a lengthy interview Mr. Haile Woldensaie (DeruE) conducted with Eritrea’s free press . In this highly controversial interview, DeruE said the following –
On petitioning, DeruE says:
“There is no law against petitioning, collectively, for a meeting. If, by refusing to hold a session, the intent is to avoid discomfort at being criticized, then there should still be a meeting as a means to educate those who are incapable of accepting or giving criticism. If the intent is to silence the dissenters, obviously one in power can do anything including muting dissent. But he still can’t kill the ideas. So, in the end, it is a futile exercise.”
On The Discussion Paper distributed by the Central Office in January 2001:
The Discussion Paper that the Central Office initiate in January is illegal because it was not approved by the Central Committee and the Executive Council. I, as a minister, was excluded from the circulation. To enable readers to reach a conclusion, I handed a copy to the private newspaper, Admas.
On the allegations of colluding with the enemy:
“In addition to being a means of escaping the truth and covering up weaknesses, to present corrective measures and assessments that were presented at the end of the war, as if they are harmonious with the enemy’s agenda and the critics as supporters of the enemy is not proper and a chilling hijacking and killing of freedom of expression.”
On the allegation that the Reformers called on the President to resign:
“After our experience in Badme, and after the initiation of confidence-building campaigns, to see the sudden developments of the Third Offensive, was only un-anticipated by the people, even senior cadres and authorities who did not have sufficient information were saddened and distressed. Given the developments, if, at the time, someone were to say: “just like Gemal Abdel Nasser offered his people to resign at the conclusion of the 1967 war when Egypt was having military problems, the President and the Government ought to submit its resignation to the people.” Is there anything wrong in saying this? Does this necessarily mean it is execution of the Woyane goals? Given the information at one’s disposal, isn’t one allowed to make recommendations on what the best military option is? To recommend withdrawal on one’s assessment that its capability is lesser or the enemy’s is greater; to recommend attack based on one’s assessment that one’s capability is greater and the enemy’s is less and then to learn that one’s assessment and thus one’s analysis may be wrong…does that mean one should be accused with defeatism or, conversely, puffery?
On those accusing the Reformers of Defeatism:
Although one can’t say that those who now are at the Central Office have never fired a gun, for them to accuse those who have successfully led many battles during the liberation war of “defeatism” is wrong and indication that they have ulterior motives which, at the very least, is to cover up blunders; or at its worst, to defame people before the PFDJ Congress.
On How To Solve the Crisis:
The president should not try to settle this dispute forcefully and should not try to solve this extra-legally or try to smash it using some pretext. It can only be solved via discussion and debate. If he wants to solve it legally, I’d like to clarify that he cannot be the prosecutor and the judge.
On the Role of the Eritrean People: The people cannot be simple observers. Just like they tried to mediate during the ELF-EPLF disputes, they have the same responsibilities now, as well.
June 2001: Nearly 2200 individuals sign a petition for dialogue between the Reformers and the government. Written “in the name of our heroic martyrs”, the petition asks (1) President Isaias Afwerki, to exert maximum effort, leadership, care in resolving the dispute peacefully, constitutionally and legally; (2) the Signatories of the “Open Letter”, to continue seeking a peaceful, constitutional and legal resolution of the dispute; (3) Eritrea’s Religious Leaders and Elders, to do their level best to bring about understanding between the President and the Signatories of the Open Letter; (4) the heroic Eritrean Defence Forces (EDF), to maintain neutrality and allow the political process to find legal, constitutional and peaceful solution; and all Eritreans, to reject and condemn any form of violence in resolving all political differences, and to show tolerance to the divergent points of view within the leadership as well as among the general public.
June 25, 2001: The Government of Eritrea reverses its decision to expel four Americans who work for various NGOs including USAid under pressure from the United States. The Americans were allegedly participating in behavior incompatible with their responsibilities.
June 27, 2000: Admas, a private Eritrean newspaper interviews Saleh Kekia . In a wide-ranging interview, Mr. Saleh Kekia talks about constitutionalism, elections, Special Court, future of PFDJ and conflict resolution. On the matter of whether raising their issues now is ill-timed, he responds: “We believed in and fought for the principles of PFDJ. PFDJ is neither too distant to us, nor too close to others. It is our front. What we are saying is we have problems in the implementation, so let’s correct them. We are saying let’s execute the goals we believe in. To say this is not the right time is to deny reality.” On whether there is a danger that the crisis could lead to confrontation, Kekia responds: I don’t believe that the situation will escalate to confrontation. Because solving problems through debate and discussion is a sign of civilized tradition, I hope we will resolve it that way.” Asked why after so many years of comraderie the situation has deteriorated, he quotes Lee Kuan Yew, “the leader who transformed Singapore from the Third World to the First World”, as having once described the secret to Singapore’s success as “confidence.” Saleh Kekia goes on to say that this absolute trust in the leadership and each other was accounted for EPLF’s success and states that this ingredient is now missing.
June 27, 2000 : Kestedebena, a private Eritrean newspaper, gives an opportunity to General Uqbe Abraha to disclose his communication with President Isaias Afwerki. The General had sent a letter to the President on 11/27/99. In his letter, the General shares with the President what the image of the President is amongst his former colleagues: (1) Comrade Isaias has changed: he no longer consults with his colleagues; he thinks that only he works for the nation; he believes in making unilateral decisions; the Cabinet is there in name only; (2) there is no institutionalism: they are there in name only; there is much interference in their work; an air of apathy and lack of accountability rules; (3) Ambiguous Policies: not based on constitution; distances friends and allies; discourages those with capital; duplication of efforts and lack of clarity; (4) No constitutionalism: national security and people’s integrity not seen within perspective of constitution; work not governed by law. In an undated letter, the president responds by asking: who is saying that I have changed? Since when? “Not consulting” with whom? About what? When? How does one express by evidence the emotional claim that the president thinks there is no other than him? Who are those saying this?
June 2001: Voice of America (VOA) interviews Petros Solomon. Mr. Petros Solomon explains that one of the reasons the Reformers were forced to write an Open Letter was because the PFDJ Central Office had conducted exclusive seminars with senior cadres using the “Discussion Paper” developed in January 2001. He went on to explain that although the nation could benefit from experienced leadership, a group whose background is working in secretive organization may not culturally adopt to an environment that requires openness and transparency. He stated that holding power for long has negative consequences and new leadership that reflects the wishes of the people should emerge. He said he wished to reassure the people that he has no doubt that the government, after conducting discussions, would solve the problem and prepare them for a constitutional government.
July 1, 2001: Qestedebena interviews General Uqbe Abraha . The General was responding to a recent finding of the “Special Court” that implicated him in the alleged crimes of Papayo, a Central Committee member who was sentenced for embezzlement. The General stated that if the issue is about embezzlement, he (General Uqbe) is innocent. But if the question deals with trusting people, then “all of us, beginning with the president, should be held accountable.”
July 3, 2001: Al Hayat, an Arab daily, reports that government officials interrogated elder Eritreans who attempted to mediate the crisis.
July 9, 2001: Mr. Hamed Hmed is detained and interrogated for allegedly informing an Arab daily correspondent in Asmara (Al Hayat) about the petition for dialogue that was facilitated by an Eritrean website, Asmarino.com. He was released after enduring “a lot of humiliation and disrespect.”
July 15, 2001: Fifty Eritrean senior citizens who had attempted to mediate the dispute between government officials were summoned by the Police Commissioner and asked to account for their motivations. The government wanted to know if they were attempting the mediation through their own initiative or because they were asked to by the Reformers. The government informed the elder citizens that, per the Penal Code, more than seven Eritreans couldn’t congregate without the prior consent of the government.July 17, 2001: The Eritrean Ambassador to Scandinavian countries, Ms. Hebret Berhe, resigns her position and moves to the United States of America. She discloses her reasons for doing so in a letter she sent Awate.com www.awate.com. She wrote: “The PFDJ led by President Isaias, is today characterized by its strong opposition to reform and democracy. When people are eagerly waiting for a democratic transition, PFDJ is postponing it indefinitely. When people are aspiring for the rule of law, it’s being stifled and Kangaroo courts (Special Court) are firmly in place doing a great disservice to justice. Malpractice of law is at its worst in the history of our nation. People are subjected to intimidation for their political beliefs. Institutions have been deliberately made not to function. A one-man rule has been firmly installed rendering the slightest democratic practice impossible. During my assignment as Ambassador of Eritrea to Sweden, Norway, and Finland since September 1999, my democratic convictions came in constant confrontation with the malpractices of the PFDJ led government.”
July 23, 2001: In an address to scholars and professionals a seminar organized by the Eritrean Studies Association in Asmara, Justice Teame Beyene accuses the executive office of interfering in the affairs of the judiciary branch.
July 25, 2001: Mr. Mathewos Habteab, the Editor-in-chief of MeQaleh, a private bi-weekly, which had interviewed many of the Reformers, was abducted by security officers from his home.
July 31, 2001: Mr. Semere Kesete, the president of student union of University of Asmara, was arrested at 7:45 AM from his home. At a graduation ceremony address, Mr. Semere Kesete had delivered a speech that included criticism of the government and the university administrators. Also, the student union and the administrators of the University of Asmara had been in negotiations about the terms of their summer campaign. The sticking points were later reported to be whether the amount of living allowances (Nkfa 800) was net of cost of meals or not.
August 1, 2001: Representatives of the Students Union of University of Asmara post an open letter at Eritrean websites. With respect to their president, they demand that: “The concerned authorities give an official statement of his present condition and whereabouts to the students Union. Should he be accused of any crime, his constitutional right be respected and his case be presented to the court. Should not he be accused of any crime, he should be immediately released and the reason for his arrest should be officially stated.”
August 3, 2001: Hadas Ertra posts an announcement by the administration of the University of Asmara. The bulletin summons students to report for duty on August 9, at 7:00 AM for a three-day orientation. They are told that the obstacle–Semere Kesete—is now in the hands of the Courts. They are told to go to the University for details of their assignment and that they are to pack their clothing, bedding and grooming stuff. As they leave, they are promised 800 Nakfa, dry food, medicine and mosquito nets.
August 3, 2001: The Reformers issue an “Open Letter to the Eritrean People”, where, for the first time, propose a detailed reform aagenda. The paper addresses the following issues: (1) War, Peace & National Security which recommends the steps that need to be taken to safeguard Eritrea’s peace and security in relationship with 1.1 Ethiopia: confidence building measures including mutual reduction of armed forces; 1.2 Sudan: disengage from each other’s internal affairs; remove each nation’s army from the common border; allow the free flow of commerce between the people of the two nations; enhance co-operation and relationship at the government level; with the approval of all parties involved, work for the peaceful resolution of Sudan’s conflict 1.3 Yemen: continue with the current policies, looking forward not back; and 1.4 General: take tangible steps to bring peace to the Horn of Africa by not supporting one another’s opposition groups; (2) Economic & Social Issues: restructuring governmental institutions, strengthening civil society, GO’s and NGOs; encouraging free enterprise; reforming land proclamation; instituting social security/retirement benefits; respecting Eritreans right of free movement; expanding vocational/trade education; ending winter student campaigns; present to court Eritreans languishing in jail without charge and notify the family members of those against whom “steps had been taken”; build subsidized housing; divorce PFDJ from economic enterprise and surrender its finances (after an audit) to a trusteeship for the benefit of the orphaned and the disabled and the demobilized; abandoning the policy of “mother tongue” in education and implementing official languages for Eritrea: “it is our view that they should be Tigrigna and Arabic but that should the subject of debate amongst Eritreans.”
August 4, 2001: Brigadier General Estifanos Seyoum was fired from his position as department director of the Inland Revenue Department, the government’s tax collection office. The General is alleged to have had arguments with the ruling party on why PFDJ is exempted from paying taxes and was reportedly in the process of suing the party. The government spokesperson, Mr. Yemane Gebremeskel,informed AFP on August 7 that the move was a “routine reshuffling of department heads.”
August 6, 2001: CPJ writes a letter to the Eritrean government inquiring on the whereabouts of Mr. Mateos Habteab, the editor-in-chief of Meqaleh newspaper.
August 7, 2001: Uniformed and plainclothes security officers surround the University of Asmara in an effort to discourage student congregations around the campus. Soldiers stationed at entry points to Asmara ask for identification cards to ensure that students do not leave the city.
August 7 – 10 2001: The Eritrean High Court orders the government to present Mr. Semere Kesete, who had been in detention since July 31, to the Court for arraignment. At the arraignment of August 10, the judge ordered the Government to release Mr. Semere Kesete. The Government requested for more time to prepare its case and keep the prisoner in remand. Immediately thereafter, the police began rounding up students and taking them for detention at Asmara’s football stadium. Police with batons dispersed parents of the students who congregated outside the stadium. Some of the mothers were detained and released after their husbands posted bail and promised to “control their wives.”
August 8, 2001: The Eritrean Embassy in the United States responds to CPJ claim of 8/6/01. “First, Mr. Mateos Habteab was not kidnapped nor is he missing. He is doing his national service. Second, there are no journalists missing.”
August 10, 2001: Justice Teame Beyene was fired. His immediate supervisor, Justice Minister Fozia Hashim, delivered the communication verbally. Subsequently, the government, through PFDJ’s Political Director, Mr. Yemane Gebreab, explained at the Eritrean Festival in Washington, D.C. that the reason for the termination was due to Mr. Teame Beyene’s involvement with politics, which endangers the impartiality of the Court. Echoing these sentiments, the Justice Minister, in an interview posted by the ruling party’s website stated that at the conference of the Eritrean Studies Association “he presented accusations, in lieu of academic papers. All those who were present at the seminar noticed that by stating ‘The Courts are unable to maintain their independence because the President [Isaias Afwerki] keeps violating their independence and had conducted campaigns against the courts’, Mr. Teame [Beyene] tried to use the stage as a political launching pad. To engage in this kind of activity is inconsistent with his responsibilities. Secondly, to spread such kind of false information is done with deliberate intent to diminish the people’s trust in the independence of the Courts and is an act of political bias which precludes his continued service as the President of the Court.”
August 10, 2001: Hadas Ertra (No 11), the government newspaper publishes an interview it conducted with Alamin Mohammed Seid, PFDJ’s Secretary, on August 8. In the first extensive explanation of the government’s standpoint, Mr. Alamin M. Seid states that the campaign of the Reformers is destructive for many reasons, the three major ones being: “First, what has enabled this country to foil the Offensives of Woyane is our people’s volunteerism, our people’s self-confidence and its unified challenge is a huge contribution. By blending self-doubt and discontent, this new environment distances trust, volunteerism and defiance. Second, it encourages and abates the Woyane and all those who harbor bad will towards us to continue with their efforts. That, the Woyane, after failing to achieve our surrender that they sought at the military front are now agitating to bring that about via social and economic crisis is a reflection of this. Third, the worries being creates are negatively impacting our international relations and partnership.
“Although just before the Third Offensive, some of them may have been saying things, what brought things to the surface was after the Third Offensive. This was not a happenstance. During these trying times, while the Eritrean people and its army were heroically defending the nation using all their resources and sacrificing themselves in the thousands, they took a wrong and defeatist stand. Beginning from the day we withdrew from Barentu, they started saying, ‘We cannot stop the challenge and the onslaught of the Woyane Offensive. The Woyane won’t leave us alone unless the President resigns; so he should resign. If the Woyane occupy to the entire country, they will destroy our people so we should call on the UN and the US to take over and save us.’ For senior leaders of the Front to take this kind of stand requires accountability.”
The Secretary went on to state that the Party had shared this assessment in its sessions of August and September and, after requiring self-criticism from the group, had every intention of moving forward. However, the Reformers, knowing that this issue will surface, decided to engage in a campaign of pre-emptive strike. He goes on to state that the Reformers were behind the movement of the G-13.
August 11, 2001: In a paper entitled “In Lieu of Defamation, Better to Argue with Facts” the Reformers respond to the government’s allegation as articulated by Mr. Alamin Mohammed Seid. The reformers argue that they were forced to go public after the saw the government’s defamation campaign initiated in January 2001 and after their repeated efforts to call for a meeting between February and May 2001 were rebuffed. They say that “Of the 15 individuals, there is no one who tried to absolve the enemy and place all the blame on the nation. On the issue of the Peace Process and the War with Woyane, two meetings were held at the Central Committee and National Assembly level on July and September 2000. If there is an allegation that an attempt was made to absolveWoyane and place all the blame on the nation, bring the evidence and let the notes [minutes] of the meetings be disclosed to the public. If the answer is, this has never been done and it shouldn’t be disclosed to the public, we call for the formation of a National Committee of Elders who can be trusted with the information and the evidence.” With respect to Mr. Alamin Mohammed Seid’s claim that some Reformers called for the President’s resignation, they respond, “Not a single individual from the 15 accused said anything like the above. If there is anyone who has evidence that states otherwise, we call on them to present their evidence. As for the attitude expressed after the withdrawal from Barentu, the Reformers say, “ Because most of the people were led to believe that after the first shot of the Third Offensive we were going to show miracles, the concern they had developed during the first days of the war turned into extreme anger and questioning the leadership of the war once we withdrew from Barentu. And because the war was being led by the president himself, it was natural that a great deal of the talk dealt about him.” They go on to ask: Concurrent with the withdrawal from Barentu, wasn’t there another extremely dangerous decision made and that a great deal of loss was averted due to lack of its execution?
They conclude by warning: “If anyone, including the president, is culpable, his crime and his accuser should be presented openly; he should have access to a lawyer, his rights should be respected and the case made in an independent court. Any step taken outside this context is illegal and will have repercussions.”
August 11 – August 12, 2001: Nearly 2000 Asmara University students are bussed to WiA, a desert camp 30 k.m. south of Massawa. The students had refused to report to the University, as instructed by the University administrators, pending the outcome of the student union president, Semere Kesete, who had been detained since July 31.
August 14, 2001: Yirga Yosef, a University of Asmara student, died while in government detention. His death was attributed to heatstroke he suffered while in WiA, a desert detention camp, 30 km from Massawa.
August 15 – August 18, 2001: Trgta, a pro-government newspaper of National Union of Eritrean Youth & Students (NUEYS) writes an article entitled: “The Truth is surfacing its head: Accountability May shift from 15 to 3!” and “No Wise Men Within G-3?” The Reformers allege that the writers at the newspaper are actually members of the Central Office writing articles using pen names.
August 15, 2001: Traffic police stopped Mahmud Sherifo’s car and ordered his driver out of his seat and drove the car away. At 11 AM, guards from the President’s office informed him that they have orders to get him out of the office. Asked about the incident by a reporter, Sherifo said “the car and the office is [are] government property; but they could have done it in a proper legal manner instead.”
August 19, 2001: Yemane Tekie, a university of Asmara student, died while undergoing treatment for heatstroke at Halibet Hospital. He was part of the 2000 University students who were forcibly bussed to Wia by the government for refusing to report for summer duty. Through its ministry of foreign affairs, its official spokesperson and the website of the ruling party, www.shaebia.org, the government expressed “deep regret” for the deaths and blamed the student union and the Reformers for agitating the students into refusing to perform their duty. It says that the government had to send the students to WiA after having exhausted all means to negotiate with the students to convince them to perform their agreed-upon assignment of conducting AIDS awareness campaigns and statistical compilation of the war-displaced population.
August 20, 2001 Tsigenai: Editorial: “The Private Press Respect the Law: The Government Has Responsibility for their existence.” The private press is governed by the press law and is, thus, operating legally. The government has responsibility for their existence. In addition, they have expectations of the government. To ensure that fulfill their national responsibility, not only should the government co-operate with them, it should defend them as well. In the event, to look at them with an eye of suspicion because they are critical of the government is not only counterproductive but it is the equivalent of the government working against the Press Laws it passed.
August 23, 2001:self-identified only as “University Of Asmara Students, Alumni, And Concerned Eritreans”, Eritreans sponsor a petition calling for the “immediate release of detained university students.” The appeal is directed to the Eritrean government and “particularly to the Eritrean National Assembly” to release students held at WiA and the student union president, Semere Kesete. Over 2700 Eritreans sign the petition.
August 24, 2001: MeQaleh: Major General Berhane Gerezgheir writes an article entitled: National Guard, National Defense, National Human Resource & Its Efficient Use
August 31, 2001: Ambassador Hebret Berhe calls for “Democratic Alternative to Current PFDJ Leadership.”
August 2001: ELF-RC Held its 5th National Congress in Gonder, Ethiopia. The congress, which was attended by a number of other opposition groups who are members of the Alliance Of Eritrean Opposition Forces, became a major propaganda weapon by the PFDJ, which accuses all Eritrean opposition groups and elements alike of treason.
September 1, 2001: Journalist Mathewos Habteab, editor-in-chief of Meqaleh who had been in detention since July 25, is released. It is reported that his release and the directives he received to report to the Ministry of Information are in anticipation of a visit by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), scheduled for early October.
September 1 – 3, 2001: The Eritrean Independent Democratic Movement (EIDM), an opposition entity founded in October 2000, held its second convention in Washington DC.
September 7, 2001: In a move to reconcile university students with University administrators, Asmara University’s president, Dr. Weldeab Isaac paid a visit to university students at WiA. Nearly 2000 students refused to see him. As a result, the student’s release, which had been scheduled for the following Monday, was postponed.
September 18 – 19, 2001: In dawn raids, the Government of Eritrea arrested eleven of fifteen Reformers at their homes. The eleven National Assembly members arrested are (1) Mahmud Ahmed Sheriffo (2) Haile Woldensae (3) General Ogbe Abrha (4) Hamid Hmd (5) Saleh Kekya (6) Brigadier General Estifanos Seyoum; (7) Berhane GhebreEghzabiher; (8) Astier Feshatsion; (10) Petros Solomon; (9) Petros Solomon; (10) Germano Nati; (11) Beraki Ghebreslassie. Of the remaining four, three, namely Mesfun Hagos; Adhanom Ghebremariam and Haile Menkerios were in the United States. One of the 15, Mohammed Berhan Blata, had disassociated himself from the group weeks prior to the clampdown. The government alleged that the group had committed crimes against the sovereignty and national security of the state.
September 19, 2001: Shaebia.org www.shaebia.org, (website of the ruling party) In an article entitled: “Secret New York Meeting Discusses G-15 Plans,” the website reports that members of the Reform movement (“G-15”) held a meeting on August 18, 2001, in New York. The meeting is reported to have included some members of the “G-13”, Eritrean scholars and professionals who had a meeting in Germany in September 2000 and wrote a private letter to President Eritrea, recommending reform. The website reports that “members of G-15 told participants that organization of secret cells (wahios), inside and outside the country, including in units of the Eritrean Defence Forces, was the most crucial task at hand. Second priority was given to the cooperation that has been established with “all Eritrean Opposition Groups”, organized under the umbrella of the Alliance of Eritrean National Forces (AENF). The Mekelle, Ethiopia, based AENF is a coalition of 11 groups, including the remnants of the ELF-RC, Saghem and the Eritrean Islamic Jihad.” Further, the article stated that the group reported, “secret contacts had been established with regional countries” and that efforts were underway to internationally isolate Eritrea.
September 19, 2001: Two reporters verify that they had fled to Sudan. The two reporters are Milikias Mehretab and Semere Teazaz,who are, respectively, the editor-in-chief of, and reporter for, Keste Debena, a private Eritrean weekly, they had anticipated the crackdown and had been looking for an escape route for weeks.
September 19, 2001: The Eritrean Government shuts down the eight private newspapers and begins the arrest of nine journalists. The reason for closing the newspapers was, according to government officials, incompliance with the governing Press Proclamation. The newspapers are alleged to have failed to file annual financial statements. Subsequent allegations include working against the unity of the country. The government did not acknowledge that there were any reporters arrested. The missing reporters are Medhane Haile (Keste Debena), Amanuel Asrat (Zemen), Fitzum Wedi Ade (Zemen) Aaron Berhane (Setit), Selayinghes Beyene (Meqaleh), Mattewos Habteab (Meqaleh) and Dawit Habtemichael (Meqaleh), Yusuf Mohamed (Tsigenay) and Seyoum Fsehaye (Photographer.)
September 19, 2001: Two agencies, RSF – Reporters Without Borders and CPJ – Committee to Protect Journalists, protest the closure of the 8 private newspapers. RSF asks the President to lift the suspension and to publication of newspapers. CPJ’s Ann Cooper states that it “believes that the newspapers were suspended in an effort to stifle public criticism of the Eritrean government. The licensing issue is clearly a pretext to justify this action and only confirms our view that licensing print media obstructs the exercise of press freedom.”
September 20, 2001: Amnesty International expresses concern on the arrest of the 11 Reformers and expresses fear that around 60 of their supporters may have been arrested as well. The human rights group urged: “All those who have been arrested should be brought to court promptly, charged with a recognizably criminal offence or released. Any trial should be held in accordance with international human rights standards and without recourse to the death penalty.” In a statement it issued it said, “The organization would be concerned if the detainees were charged and brought to trial before the Special Court, which fails to meet international standards for fair trial. The Court conducts trials behind closed doors and allows no right to defence counsel or of appeal to a higher or independent court.”
September 21, 2001: HRW – Human Rights Watch called on President Isaias Afwerki to “ immediately free recently detained political dissidents, allow the return of university students to their classes, and lift the ban it decreed as of Wednesday on privately owned newspapers. HRW’s quoted Mr. Suliman Baldo, a Senior Researcher of its Africa Division as saying “The government is trying to stamp out all criticism of its disastrous war policies. The situation is growing sharply worse.”
September 21, 2001: The EU diplomatic mission in Eritrea communicate their protest against the Eritrean government’s crackdown on the Reformers and call on their government to take commensurate steps against the Eritrean government.
September 21, 2001: BBC World monitoring service reports that the University students who had been at WiA camp have returned to Eritrea. The ruling party’s website, Shaebia.org reported that the new school year would start on October 8, 2001. On the failure of the original summer program, the party accused the reformers, whom it described as a “group of politicians who were working to foment instability in the country” of “working behind the scenes” urging “the students to refuse to participate in the summer work program” and “to push them into violent confrontation with police.”
September 24, 2001: The Government of Eritrea revokes the diplomatic passports of the three PFDJ Reformers who were not arrested on September 18 and September 19. The three reformers—Mesfun Hagos, Haile Menkorios and Adhanom Gebremariam. At least one, Mr. Mesfun Hagos, had flown out of Washington, DC, with his diplomatic passport on September 18 and the revocation took effect while he was in Europe. The government explained that this action is a routine exercise that is applied on any national who is no longer serving in a diplomatic capacity and that the Reformers can apply and receive an ordinary passport. Others dispute this assertion on the basis that the three “diplomats”, such as Haile Menkorius, had not been serving in an Eritrean diplomatic capacity for months and that receiving an Eritrean passport is not as simple as filling out the necessary application at an Embassy.
September 26, 2001: Along with Hebret Berhe, Eritrea’s former Ambassador to Scandinavian countries, two of the 15 Reformers,Haile Menkorios and Adhanom Gebremariam, convene a meeting at the Double Tree Hotel in Arlington, VA. The meeting was organized by “Concerned Eritreans” and managed to attract 500-600 people, according to some reports. The session was aborted within half an hour after its commencement by the Arlington police who could not control disruptive elements.
September 28, 2001: Mr. Antonio Bandini, Italy’s Ambassador to Eritrea, as well as EU’s Ambassador to Eritrea, was given a 72-hour deadline to leave the country. Mr. Bandini had presented the Eritrean government with EU’s “demarche”—a document expressing grave expression at Eritrea’s political direction. The Eritrean government stated that the reason for the expulsion is Mr. Bandini’s engagement in activities that “were not compatible” with his diplomatic duties. Analysts quoted in the media said, “The letter the EU criticized Eritrea for human rights violations, following the arrest of 11 dissidents, the closure of the private press and the detention of at least eight journalist…The Italian ambassador, like several other western ambassadors, had contact with the dissidents whilst they were still in office…Since their dismissal, all the ambassadors held one joint meeting to hear the dissidents position. It is possible that these contacts were considered provocative and displeased the government. “
September 30, 2001: Ambassador Tesfay Ghirmazion, Eritrea’s representative to the EU, submits his resignation. Asmarino.com quotes the reason he gave for his decision as follows: “I have chosen to disassociate myself from a system that has increasingly become intolerant to divergent views and resorts to illegal ways of silencing its people.” After his resignation, the Eritrean government accused him of attending the August 18 meeting in New York and of leaving “his job without prior notification to the government or giving any reason as regards his action.” The same report states that “he wrote a short note on 29 September 2001, informing the government of Eritrea about his resignation.”
September 30, 2001: Between 1200 to 2000 Eritreans are reported to have attended a meeting chaired by Ambassador Girma Asmerom to discuss the draft laws on elections. A resolution was passed—“unanimously and with a standing ovation”–to (1) in light of the Woyane threat, to show solidarity with the Eritrean Government and the Eritrean Defense Forces; (2) to work hard and hand-in-hand with the government in the efforts of demobilization, repatriation of refugees and reconstruction; (3) after observing, in depth, the campaign conducted by a few leaders and their supporters while we were engaged in safeguarding our sovereignty and reconstruction efforts, we conclude that the movement–which is not timely, diverts us from our national focus to other undesirable venues, endangers our unity and mutual trust, creates fissures that could be exploited and dilutes our energies from focusing on important matters—is destructive. This [issue] has been extended more than it should have. While we express our support for the legal remedies [used by the government] to address this matter that endangers our national unity, security and sovereignty, we recommit ourselves to foiling efforts that undermine our national unity, national security and sovereignty.” As a sign of commitment, the assembled group pledged 100,000 to the Eritrean government. Some residents of Washington, D.C. who did not attend the meeting reported to Awate.com that in an effort to ensure that the meeting would have one of the highest turnouts, the Eritrean Ambassador’s office had spared no effort calling Eritreans consecutively for nearly two weeks.
October 2, 2001: Mr. Tseggai Mogos, Eritrea’s ambassador to Italy, is given a 72-hour deadline to leave the country. The move was explained as retaliation for Eritrea’s expulsion of Italy’s ambassador to Eritrea, Mr. Antonio Bandini.
October 2, 2001: In a taped address broadcast by Asmarino.com’s “Delina” audio service, Mr. Mesfun Hagos, vows that although he is innocent and fears that his civil liberties will be violated by the government as soon as he returns, he will, nonetheless, return to Eritrea “as a nationalist and citizen.” He further stated that although he and his 14 colleagues are guilty of nothing more than challenging the “dictatorial, unpredictable and arrogant behavior” of President Isaias Afwerki; that he and his colleagues are “ready to face any charges against us in an open court with all our rights protected.” He advised his listeners to be on alert for any pretext by President Isaias Afwerki to plunge Eritrea into war and to be aware that they may be told that some of the jailed reformers had committed suicide, died accidentally or were shot while trying to escape.
October 2, 2001: Eritrea’s government radio, dimtSi Hafash, announced that ““Eritrea has said that it will not attend the meeting of the UN Military Coordination Committee overseeing the cessation of hostilities on the border with Ethiopia scheduled for 3 October. The head of the Eritrean side, Brig-Gen Abrahaley Kifle, said Eritrea does not accept the UN proposal that the meeting should be held in the Temporary Security Zone, rather than on the common border as proposed by Eritrea.”
October 2001 : In an article published by Asmarino.com, former Constitutional Commission Members, Gebre Hiwet Tesfagiorgis, Semret Asfaha and Tekie Fessehatzion express their “deepest concern on the recent developments on the Eritrean political scene, in particular the closure of the private press (plus detention of nine independent journalists) as well as the arrest of 11 senior members of the government. “Our concern emanates from their implications on cardinal principles on rights and freedoms enshrined in the Constitution of Eritrea (article 19), without the observance of which it is impossible to build a tolerant and politically pluralist society.” They also stated that their intent “is not to take side in the ongoing political division within the PFDJ (Peoples Front for Democracy and Justice) leadership. Nor is it to join the chorus of condemnatory or self-serving declaratory statements that seem to characterize the Internet postings nowadays. It is rather to express our concerns about the increasingly deteriorating political situation in Eritrea, which if not handled with care can throw the country and its people into a serious political crisis.” Regarding the detention of the 11 PFDJ reformers, they stated “We have no way of ascertaining the veracity of the charge or knowing what constitutes a threat to national sovereignty, as no detailed information has been made public. Still we worry because, the detention, coming as it does following several political pronouncements by the dissident group, we are not certain whether the detention is, as the dissidents allege, due to their public statements critical of the Head of State governing style, or as the government contends, due to real and credible evidence that the dissidents, through their conduct, have threatened the nation’s security and sovereignty.”
October 1 – October 15, 2001:
** Mr. Mesfun Hagos, a leading figure from the PFDJ reformers (G-15) vows to return to Eritrea. He made the vow in Germany where he was stranded after leaving the USA after a medical stay on his way to Eritrea, carrying a diplomatic passport. On his depart from the USA, he was seen off by the Eritrean Ambassador to the USA, Mr. Girma Asmerom. Mesfun discovered that his passport was nullified when he was in transit in Germany. Critics of the Eritrean Government believe that nullifying Mesfin’s passport was a step to prevent Mesfin from returning to Eritrea where he enjoys a popular support after 11 of his colleagues who signed an Open Letter to the President of Eritrea were earlier jailed.
** The Belgian Chapter European Network for the Defense of Democracy and Peace in Eritrea, sent a letter to The European Union and the People of Eritrea. The letter was addressed to Mrs. Nicole Fontaine, President of the European Parliament; Mr.Romano Prodi, President of the European Commission; Mr. Javier Solana, Secretary General of the Council of EU and Mr. Paul Nielson, Member of the Commission Development and Humanitarian Aid. Written to protest the expulsion of Italy’s and EU’s Ambassador to Eritrea, Mr Bandini, the authors describe him as a person whose “humanity, his commitment, his efficiency and his burning desire to help out the fledgling nation was common knowledge” was admired by the Belgian Chapter. The letter also stated that “The people of Eritrea have nothing against Ambassador Bandini. On the contrary, they are struck with stupor to witness his unjustified, utterly unjustifiable departure from the country. The measure taken by the power circle against him is nothing else but a wanton act against the fundamental interests of the people of Eritrea.”
** As reported by Shaebia.org, a pro-government meeting of Eritreans in Germany passed a resolution calling for the postponement of elections in Eritrea scheduled for December 2001.
** Asmara University Students announce the formation of an underground opposition group known as Bana Harenet.
** An organization of Eritreans in Australia, known as Eritrean Action Group, sent a letter of appeal to United Nation Human Rights Commissioner, Australian Dept of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Amnesty International and Australian Red Cross. The letter of appeal pointed to the “alarming and blatant violations of human rights in our homeland” and accused the Eritrean government of unleashing “state sponsored terror against veteran leaders (G15 or reformers which include ministers, high ranking military officials), journalists and students and “suspended” the free press in Eritrea.” The letter called for the release “unconditionally all political prisoners; Abolish the Special Court (conducts trials behind closed doors and allows no right to defence counsel or appeal to higher court); Implement the 1997 ratified National Constitution without delay; Defer national elections scheduled for December 2001 and establish an independent Election Commission. Invite UN and other independent international observers during elections;Abolish PFDJ’s monopoly on the economy; Respect of the democratic and human rights of all citizens.
** An Eritrean website, Eritrea1.org, reports of a military clash between government forces and the opposition around the western town of Guluj
October 16 – October 31, 2001:
** Two Eritreans, Ali Alamin and Kiflom Gebre Michael who worked for the political and economic affairs office at the American Embassy in Asmara, Eritrea were detained by security personnel. The arrest came on the same day that the USA released a statement criticizing the Eritrean Government for detaining of the “reformers” and its clampdown on free-press.
October 22, 2001: The Guardian reports: “European Union ambassadors pulled out of Eritrea last week in protest at a crackdown on political dissent and a free press in a country that was seen as one of the great new hopes in Africa.” Noting that Italy had expelled the Eritrean Ambassador in retaliation for Eritrea’s expulsion of Italy’s ambassador, the paper quoted diplomats as saying “that the crackdown began a few days after the September 11 terrorist attacks on the US” and that they “believe that the Eritrean government thought the world’s attention would be distracted from events in the Horn of Africa.” Still, “… the US issued a statement condemning the crackdown” and a “ couple of days later the police arrested two Eritreans working at the US embassy in Asmara, in what appeared to be retaliation for the US criticism.”
** The Eritrean Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a Press Release protesting to “a number of western countries, including the United States, [that] have issued negative statements on Eritrea in what appears to be a concerted effort.” The release stated, “The Government had publicly announced that the reasons that underlie the temporary closure of the print media were their gross violation of the country’s press law. It has likewise announced the detention of certain individuals engaged in unlawful acts against the sovereignty and national security of the country. It has stated categorically that their detention has nothing to do with any political views they may hold and express.”
** In an interview with a Swedish radio station, Mr. Yemane Gebreab, political advisor to president Isaias Afwerki and political director of the ruling party said that elections in Eritrea scheduled for December 2001 had been postponed. Mr. Yemane Gebreab said, “we struggled 30 years for democracy. We have full support from the population and we will surprise the world.”  In response, the Eritrean website, Asmarino.com, interviewed a spokesperson for Eritrean Embassy in the US, who said, “the elections have not been postponed and will take place as scheduled in December 2001.”
** UNMEE repots that hundreds of unclaimed bodies from the Eritrean-Ethiopian border war still rot in the divide area between the armies of the two countries and asked both parties to bury their dead.
** An Eritrean advocacy group called the “Eritrean Action Committee for Peace and Democracy in the Netherlands (EACPDN)” is founded. . In their press release, the founders describe themselves as “former active and longtime members of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF), and Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) and other independent minded individuals.” The release describes the motivation for the formation as being “in response to the acute crisis which is confronting Eritrea today.”
** A London meeting organized by Eritreans was violently disrupted when some attendants began to heckle and throw punches and chairs at the guest speaker, Mr. Mesfin Hagos, a member of the PFDJ Reformers (G-15) who had escaped arrest because he was outside the country on Septmber 18, the day his colleagues were detained. Suspicions that the disruption was co-coordinated by pro-government activists were buttressed when the government radio, dimtSi Hafash, praised the disruptive elements.
** Adhanom Gebremarian, Eritrea’s former ambassador to Nigeria and one of the three members of the Reformers who escaped arrest, held a meeting with Eritreans in New Jersey, USA. Following two previous foiled meetings organized for the Reformers, this meeting was noteworthy for the absence of violence and disruption.
** Amnesty International issues a statement expressing concern for the health of members of the “PFDJ Reformisers who had been arrested namely, Petros Solomon, Ogbe Abraha, Haile Woldetensae, Mahmud Ahmed Sheriffo, Berhane Ghebre Eghzabiher, Saleh Kekiya, Aster Fishatsion, Hamid Himid, German Nati, Estifanos Seyoum and Beraki Ghebre Selassie (m). Amnesty International stated that it “fears for their safety and is particularly concerned for the health of Ogbe Abraha who suffers from asthma and Haile Woldetensae who is diabetic.’ Amnesty International also wrote a letter of appealed on behalf of “nine journalists…[who] have been…detained incommunicado at a police station in the capital, Asmara, for over a month.” The nine journalists are Yousef Mohamed Ali, Medhanie Haile, Dawit Habtemichael, Amanuel Asrat, Dawit Isaac, Temesken Ghebreyesus, Mattewos Habteab, Aron Berhane, and Seyoum Fsehaye.
** Eritreans opposed to the government of Eritrea held a meeting in Seattle.
** The People’s Democratic Front For The Liberation Of Eritrea (SAGEM) held its meeting in Ethiopia. In a press release, SAGEM said that it had, “successfully reached at resolving important resolutions and it charted a new working program.”
** The Secretariat of the Alliance of Eritrean National Forces held its 10th regular meeting. The alliance’s statement reported that one “of the main issues the AENF deliberated upon was therefore the eminent danger posed by the political uncertainty in Asmara and the dire consequences this may entail not only to the unity and security of our people but also to the stability of our region as a whole.”
November 1 – November 15 2001
November 4, 2001: Kessela [Sudan] Region Governor, Adam Hamid Mussa and Gash-Barka [Eritrea] Region Governor, Mustafa al-Nour Hussein, signed an agreement for bilateral cooperation between their two regions. Kessela region in the Sudan borders the Gash-Barka region in Eritrea. The agreement signed provides for the creation of joint committees on economic, political-security and cultural-social cooperation. They also agreed to exchange intelligence information, as well as cooperate in fighting infiltrations and smuggling across their common border. The Sudanese and the Eritrean opposition forces are stationed in the Gash-Barka/Kessela regions.
November 5, 2001: In a release issued to Awate.com, Endrias Habtegerghis, Eritrea’s Charge d’affairs in The Netherlands, indicates of his resignation as a protest of the government’s arrest of the PFDJ Reformers and his belief that the ruling party is not committed to surrendering power to the people.
November 7, 2001: A group of students who were held in Wi’a and other detention camps after they had protested against the policies of the government and the university of Asmara administration were released. Students had protested against summer work program compensation and fairness as well as other policy issues of the university. The leaders of the student union remained in detention.
November 16 – November 30, 2001:
** A recently-formed Eritrean advocacy group known as “Concerned Eritreans for Democracy and Reconciliation, Metro-Atlanta “ held its first seminar in Atlanta, GA. Adhanom G/Mariam, a member of the PFDJ Reformers, was the group’s guest speaker who, according to published reports, presented a well-received speech of the political crisis in Eritrea.
** The French organization Reporters Sans Frontiers (RSF) included Eritrea’s president Isaias Afwerki in its list of “predators of Free Press.” RSF reported: “Since the 18 September 2001, Eritrea is the only African country where private press no longer exists.”
** Four ambassadors of EU member states (Germany, Holland, France and Denmark) return to Eritrea, a month after they were recalled to Europe for consultations. The Ambassadors were recalled for consultations by their government in protest against the expulsion of Ambassador Antonio Bandini of Italy who also represented the European Union. Mr. Bandini did not return to Eritrea: neither Italy nor the EU has representation in Eritrea.
** Two weeks after his meeting had been disrupted by pro-government Eritreans, Mesfun Hagos, a leading member of the PFDJ reform movement, met Eritreans in London . There was strong police presence in the meeting, which was convened at a church and it was concluded without any disruptions.
** Eritreans in The Hague (The Netherlands) organized a rally in “demonstration against the repressive Eritrean regime.”
** Eritreans residing in Sweden organize a meeting for Mr. Mesfin Hagos. Though the meeting was concluded peacefully, a clear sign of opposing the tones of Mr. Mesfin started to emerge from Eritreans who are supporters of the traditional opposition and the Independents. The main complaints was that Mr. Mesfin Hagos and, by extension, the Reformers, were despite being victims of unsubstantiated allegations, only too eager to accuse others of unsubstantiated allegations and to engage in exclusionary tactics.
** A Dallas/Fort Worth based Eritrean advocacy group, the “Committee of the Dallas and Fort Worth Metropolis,” organizes a meeting and invites Adhanom G/Mariam as a guest speaker. The Committee which describes itself as “neither pro or against the so-called “G15″ reports that it had “extended similar invitation to the Eritrean Ambassador to the US, Mr. Girma Asmerom.”
** Two Eritrean journalists Milkias Mehreteab and Semere Tazaz held their first public event in Washington D.C. The reporterspresented a chilling report of the political crisis in Eritrea and presented detailed description of the scores of Eritreans languishing in jails without charge and appealed to Eritreans in Diaspora to desist from uncritical support of the government. The two reporters had fled to the United States and escaped detention in Eritrea when all editors and reporters of the private press were jailed during the September clampdown on the private press.
** Eritrea’s Director of America Division within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Derei Mohammed Debas, resigned from his post. In his resignation letter, Mr. Derei stated that the “ current sad situation in Eritrea has killed” his hope and the hope “among the whole population and in particular among the youth.” He described the activities of his agency as being “locked up in defending the indefensible acts by our government.” He described the work of an Eritrean diplomat as one whose “daily bilateral meetings have wholly been dominated by futile attempts from outside to explain to experienced diplomats the laughable justifications for the arrest of the former ministers and members of the National Assembly, the arrest of the elders, the university students, the US Embassy staff, the journalists, the firing of the Chief Justice, the closure of the free press, the continuation of the special court etc.”
** Mussie Ephrem, a young Eritrean residing in Sweden filed a Habeas Corpus, a first of its kind by an Eritrea citizen against the government of Eritrea. The petition was filed by his lawyer to protest the arrest of the “PFDJ reformers.” The petition appeals to language in the unimplemented Eritrean Constitution as well as “the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Universal Declaration on Human Rights”, all of which Eritrea is a signatory to.
** An Eritrean advocacy group known as “Eritrean Public Forum” is formed in the USA. In its press release, the Forum describes its goals as working for the “Implementation of the 1997 National constitution of Eritrea, Creation of a sustainable political atmosphere where all elements of democracy can grow through appropriate lobbying activities, and, Promotion of dialogue and open discussion among all.”
** Eritrea and Ethiopia’s Foreign Ministers present their cases to the International Court at The Hague. Both sides have presented their cases to the commission, which is expected to give its ruling in February.
** Eritrea’s “Cabinet of Ministers” holds a meeting. According to the Shaebia.org, the government website, “The Cabinet heard and thoroughly discussed reports of achievements and challenges of ministries and administrative regions,” The purpose of the sessions was to “ discuss, refine and prioritize sectoral objectives for the coming three years. The three-year framework is chosen in order to provide a broader planning perspective as well as to highlight the coherence and continuity of sectoral programmes. The focus is otherwise on government budget for the next fiscal year which starts on 1 January 2002 and ends on 31st December 2002.”
** An Eritrean website, Eritrea1.org, publishes a directive which it believes is written by PFDJ’s political director, Mr. Yemane Gebreab. The unsigned “directive,” which is dated October 2nd 2001 and is addressed to all offices of PFDJ in Europe and USA, says in part “…it is now known that a few who have escaped arrest have finished preparation to conduct continuous meetings in European and North American cities. Since this is a continuation of their destructive activities, you are directed to use whatever possible methods to disrupt these meetings.“
** The government website, Shaebia.org, publishes a commentary accusing Eritrea1.org of what it called “Cheap Fabrication from Eritrea1.org” The commentary stated: “ A cursory glance at the forged Tigrigna letter reveals that it is shoddy at best, lacking in proper use of grammar (pathetically misspelling Tigrigna words!), style, slogan and seal….If past experience of the remnants of the so-called G-15 and G-13 is anything to go by, however, it is that these people are fast becoming experts at shooting themselves in the foot with their transparent lies and fabricated stories, and they don’t need the help of the PFDJ in exposing their nakedness. “
** The United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) issues a statement denying Ethiopian reports of Eritrean military escalation along the common border. This information followed accusation and counter accusation by both Eritrea and Ethiopia each claiming the other is preparing for or looking for pretext for war.
** Eritreans in Toronoto, Canada held a demonstration against the government of Eritrea to protest the visit of Eritrea’s Ambassador to North America, Mr. Girma Asmerom. The group lodged a complaint to the Oakwood Collegiate of Toronto District School “for allowing such meeting to take place in an educational institution; while the dictatorial regime jails its students in the hottest desert concentration camps.”
** The Eritrean president, Isaias Afwerki, met with the president of Sudan’s National Democratic Alliance (NDA), Mowlana Mohammed Osman Al Mirghani, and the Chairman of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), Doctor John Garang. The two leaders were in Asmara for a meeting of the NDA’s policy-making body, the Leadership Council. In the meeting, President Isaias is reported to have “…stressed that the experience of the past decades has conclusively proved that there can be no military solution to Sudan’s problems”. He then urged the NDA to “vigorously pursue the only viable option for Sudan, a just and comprehensive peace settlement”. He further added, ” the government and the opposition owe it to the people of Sudan to bring the war to an end as soon as possible”. Members of the Eritrea’s opposition groups wondered why President Isaias doesn’t apply in his own country what he preaches to the Sudanese.
** Ann K. Cooper, Executive Director of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) writes a letter addressed to President Isaias Afwerki, stating that the CPJ “is deeply troubled by your government’s ongoing crackdown on the independent press in Eritrea.” CPJ goes on to state, “According to our research, all the country’s independent newspapers have now been shut down. Eleven journalists are currently jailed without charges, while the whereabouts of three others are unknown.”
** The border commission charged by the United Nations to resolve the border dispute between Eritrea and Ethiopia began hearing the cases of the two countries in The Hague. The commission was established by the authority of the Ceasefire Agreement signed by Eritrea and Ethiopia in December 2000. The terms of the agreement state that the findings of the commission are final and binding, a condition that both nations accepted upon signing the peace agreement.
** UN Secretary General Koffi Anan submits a report on the progress of UNMEE’s efforts in maintaining the peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia. While the report is generally complementary of both nation’s government’s commitment to complying with the terms of the agreement they signed, the Secretary General points out the difficulties the UN Mission is facing in the areas of transportation (by air and on road), demining, determining size and scope of militia, access to airwaves, etc. Judging by the tone and volume of the specifics, the Secretary General’s report seems to indicate that UNMEE has faced more difficulties from the government of Eritrea than the government of Ethiopia.
** Ambassador Hebret Berhe accused the government of Eritrea of “contempt for the Eritrean people” for failing to officially inform the citizenry of the postponement or cancellation of the elections scheduled for December 2001. The Eritrean National Assembly, which authorized the timetable for the election in September 2000, did not convene for a single session in 2001. The Ambassador argued that the Assembly’s failure to protect its members (the PFDJ Reformers/G-15 who have been detained without charge since September) is an indication that its powers have been completely absorbed by the President.
inform. inspire. embolden. reconcile.