Eritrean strongman Isaias Afwerki dismissed the January 21 military takeover of his Ministry of Information as a minor incident orchestrated by “a handful” of individuals, an incident that he and his ministers, who were in a meeting within the confines here [presidential palace], discussed “all day.”
The disclosures were made on February 14 in an interview with state television, Eri-TV, following a Ministerial Cabinet meeting whose agenda included the “incidents of 21 January.”
According to Isaias Afwerki, his regime dispatched the commander of the mechanized brigade to deal with the disturbance and that one of the leaders of the “incident” shot and wounded him.
The organizers of the “incident” did not have an agreed-upon plan with “some saying ‘let’s shoot’ and others ‘let’s not shoot’” and that, “by lunch time, everybody had abandoned them,” claimed Isaias Afwerki.
“We were here until sunset, when they left,” said Isaias Afwerki.
The decision was made to allow the organizers of the event to “hop in one car and leave” not because “we didn’t know where they were going” but because “we wanted to know how much worse they could make things for themselves.”
The next day, all but one surrendered “voluntarily or involuntarily…the person who was doing the shooting abandoned them, according to them…[and] they were claiming that they regretted committing such a big error.”
The last holdout was cornered and committed suicide.
“The film was over,” he said.
Asked why his government was slow to disclose information about the event, Isaias Afwerki said that he and his ministers had planned to issue an announcement within a day or two after the disturbance but that they had prioritized other issues.
“Their units must have known. And one of them had to go over and issue an explanation to them… he did.”
“The fable was over,” said Isaias Afwerki.
One of the reasons for his government taking three weeks to address an issue that had global media attention was because it respects the “right of liars to tell lies,” he explained.
The interviewer did not ask what the demands of the organizers of the “incident” were or who had been arrested since January 21.
Independent news outlets including Gedab News have reported that the organizers of the “January 21 incident”–which was dubbed “Operation Forto” by Eritrean opposition (Forto is where the Ministry of Information is located)– were demanding constitutional government and release of political prisoners.
Gedab News has also reported that among those arrested are Abdella Jaber, the ruling party’s long-serving director of organizational affairs; and Mustapha Nurhussein, the governor of the South Zone.
Although the impression that was being given by Eri-TV was that the interview was incidental to a Ministerial Cabinet meeting, our sources indicate that the Cabinet meeting was scheduled for the sole purpose of holding the interview, to address the paradox that an insignificant incident warrants an interview with the president.
Eritrea’s president breaks silence over army mutiny incident
By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
February 10, 2013 (ADDIS ABABA) – Eritrean president Isaias Afewerki on Friday spoke for first time about last month’s mutiny incident in Asmara after remaining silent for three weeks.
- President of Eritrea, Isaias Afewerki (Getty)
On 21 January around 200 mutinous soldiers with two tanks stormed the information ministry and forced the director of the state-run media service to announce their demands, including the release of all political prisoners and implementation of the constitution. The one day mutiny by the renegade soldiers ended with calm.
The mutiny was the latest challenge to the Eritrean president and while admitting the incident occurred, Afewerki urged his people not to worry.
“The 21 January 2013 incident was, and is no cause at all, for apprehension and that the government opted to remain silent regarding the matter so as to give no ground for the authors of sheer lies,” Afewerki told the state news agency ERINA.
He added, “Entertain no worry at all, as there was – and does not exist – any reason for being apprehensive”.
He went on to say that the government of Eritrea deemed it appropriate to refrain from issuing statements on the matter in haste, as doing so was not only outside of its political culture but also would also mean “serving the ploys of [a] bankrupt enemy quarters”.
Afewerki said the government would release further necessary information when the appropriate time arrives, but provided no other details.
Sudan’s president Omar al-Bashir was the first head of state to pay a visit to Eritrea after the mutiny.
Bashir paid a one-day visit to the capital Asmara on 26 January – just few days after the mutiny – where he held talks with his Eritrean counterpart on a number of issues, including the mutiny incident, as well as common concerns regarding peace and security.
Eritrea is one the world’s most politically most repressive nations. It is one of Africa’s foremost jailers of journalists and was ranked last in Reporters Without Borders’ (RWB) latest press freedom index of 179 countries.
Recently, the Eritrean government blocked access from Asmara to the Qatari TV news network Al Jazeera.
On 1 February the information ministry issued a decree strictly warning all citizens to refrain from providing access to Al Jazeera, particularly targeting public places such as restaurants, cafés and hotels.
The Eritrean authorities were reportedly angered by Al Jazeera after the TV station gave coverage to demonstrations held by exiled Eritreans in solidarity of the mutinous soldiers.
The government has also jammed Al Jazeera’s English language channels.
On Tuesday, RWB deplored the Eritrean government’s censorship against Al Jazeera.
“In a country with no privately-owned media and where national news broadcast in the local language is strictly controlled by the government, the foreign media are only ‘tolerated’ and it is clear that the line that cannot be crossed is coverage of Eritrean news,” RWB said.
Nothing is yet known of the fate of the dissident soldiers and it remains unclear if the mutineers had actually formally surrendered.
However, in an interview with Sudan Tribune on Sunday, chairman of the opposition Democratic Front for Eritrean Unity, Tewolde Gebre Sellasie, alleged that the Eritrean government is arresting regional officers and others.
On 23 January following the failure of the mutiny, he said, the interior ministry of the regime – with the approval of the president – declared to take action on those who oppose the regime under the cover of religious extremists.
According to him, Abdullah Jabir – general-secretary of the ruling Popular Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) and Mustafa Nur Hussein – governor of the southern region, were arrested.
The opposition official said although the general situation in Eritrea seems calm in certain areas, within the rank and file of the army, those who refused to disarm are resisting, with periodic clashes and skirmishes taking place in various areas.
“The situation is not fully stable, and the president is in continuous fear, terrorised from the people and the army,” Tewolde told Sudan Tribune.
He said the situation in Eritrea will not return to the way it was in the past and believes revolution is not far away from happening in the country.
“Now the fear psyche gradually is breaking, and people are emboldened to stand against the regime. Therefore, now and then, we [can] expect unrest, either from within the army or the people,” he added.
Source: Sudan Times
The secret world of Eritrea has begun to unravel at a stunning pace. Just two weeks ago, on 21 January 2013, mutinous soldiers overran the Ministry of Information. Reported to number roughly 100, apparently led by junior officers and backed by a couple of tanks, the soldiers called for the implementation of the 1997 constitution. They also demanded the release of political prisoners, tens of thousands of whom are held in half a dozen undisclosed prisons.
It is hard to tell exactly how this unprecedented mutiny was put down or if the soldiers stood down by themselves. The only thing that is certain is that, after their bloodless Potemkin moment, they were able to retreat to their original base, their security guaranteed. So far, there is no information of the mutineers being rounded up, arrested or court-martialled.
The mutiny was more spontaneous and improvised than planned. This is mainly why the government, which had been caught flatfooted, managed to regain control. If the plot had been hatched long before the mutiny and a coup d’état had really been planned, the ever-watchful security services would have uncovered it and Eritrean President Issayas Afewerki would not have shown this rare clemency. Moreover, the soldiers did not try to capture the airport, the Presidential Office or any military bases, which are critical to the survival of the government. The soldiers just chose to come forward more openly and to appeal to public sentiment. They did not attempt to effect political change by force of arms.
The causes of the mutiny are rooted in the widespread disaffection within the military, the gradual erosion of the authority of high-ranking officers and the increase in serious breaches of discipline. Despite official attempts to dispel rumours about its nature, purpose and implications, the mutiny points to serious problems in the perpetually reorganising military. On the one hand, high-ranking officers are increasingly involved in corruption and smuggling, activities that are overlooked due to political imperatives. On the other hand, the rank and file are hollowed out and demoralised. Yet, even though they are disillusioned, the rank and file still consider Issayas to be the embodiment of the armed struggle that led to Eritrea’s liberation.
A diplomat based in Asmara said that ‘this disturbing development belies the government’s claim that it represents stability and it is one event among many others in an ongoing process that may already be taking place’. The mutiny should thus serve as a reminder that sudden change, while shocking, cannot be discounted in Eritrea.
Last year, a plethora of defections of high-ranking military and government officials hit the headlines. The most high-profile defection was that of Ali Abdu in November 2012. Ali held a key post as Minister of Information and had very intimate personal and political ties with Issayas, whom he never challenged. Another notable defection was that of two trustworthy Air Force pilots, Captain Yonas Woldeab and Captain Mekonnen Debesai. In early October 2012, they flew in Eritrea’s only presidential plane to Saudi Arabia and asked for political asylum.
These two defections graphically depict the dissatisfaction deep inside Eritrea’s political system. Because of the system’s penchant for extreme secrecy, the details of internal dissatisfaction and struggles are hard to come by. Yet anecdotal evidence suggests that relations are strained among top officials and that their cohesion is shaky. At the same time, these officials are not immune, along with their families and friends, to constant threats and restrictions.
This situation has been compounded by two factors. First, on 15 March 2012, Ethiopian forces attacked positions inside Eritrea and then withdrew. As Cedric Barnes so succinctly put it, ‘Eritrean troops, surprisingly and perhaps ominously for their government, put up little resistance.’ These attacks personally undermined Issayas because he had staked his political legitimacy on defending Eritrean territory against Ethiopia. Second, in April 2012, rumours were rife that Issayas, who has not publicly named any successor, was seriously ill. He reportedly suffers from a grave liver ailment and underwent successful surgery in Qatar.
The government’s anxiety was further exposed by the large-scale arming of the civilian population in urban centres. This arming of civilians who were conducting patrols had begun months before the January 2013 mutiny and may soon create a bigger problem than the one it intends to solve. Civilians seem to be armed in order to pre-empt and deter assassination and coup attempts. There is, however, no information on how civilians are selected, organised and commanded, where they are deployed and whether they will remain loyal to the end.
These developments prompt three obvious questions. How can a political system facing internal challenges beyond its control survive? What will be the most likely form of political change? And, what will the post-Issayas order look like?
Issayas’ system keeps itself in power because it controls all components of Eritrea’s culture, media, education system, judiciary, economy, foreign affairs and even religious organisations. Moreover, Issayas has systematically eliminated alternative power bases and concentrated authority in a tiny inner circle. This circle is made up of handpicked officials selected on account of proven political loyalty and personal antipathy to each other. Issayas will never be complacent and demands the utmost vigilance from these officials, who will now be even more desperately tracking the mood of both the populace and the military for the slightest sign of rebellion.
Even so, political change will most likely come in the form of an extended and bitter internal struggle within the military, which is the only organised entity in Eritrea. Such a struggle could take the form either of a refusal to take orders from above or of breakaway units attempting to challenge Issayas, as happened in January 2013. Other units may join in en masse as soon as a (most probably violent) mutiny gets underway. Moreover, loyalist institutions like the security services or the shadowy Special Brigade protecting Issayas and key facilities and charged with neutralising military-led coups may inevitably rally around more audacious soldiers.
Berouk Mesfin, Senior Researcher, Conflict Prevention and Risk Analysis Division, ISS Addis Ababa
Reverse the exodus from Eritrea
By Dan Connell
Last week, soldiers in one of Africa’s most closed and repressive nations — Eritrea — occupied the country’s Ministry of Information and issued demands. The pattern was a familiar one. News spread quickly that a coup was underway.
But feisty little Eritrea, which got its independence from Ethiopia in 1991 after defeating successive US- and Soviet-backed armies in a 30-year war, has never fit the mold of postcolonial African states, and it was not doing so now.
In a country where chatting about politics at open-air cafés can get you arrested, this was the only way people with a grievance could get attention and survive: in a large group with guns. Their point was to start a national conversation where none was allowed. And they did.
The government at first admitted an “incident,” then denied anything had happened, while Eritrea’s global diaspora lit up the Internet with debates and celebrations. One group placed 10,000 robo-calls to Eritrea’s capital, Asmara, urging people on; thousands of protesters in London, Stockholm, Rome, Berlin, and Washington this week picketed or occupied Eritrea’s embassies to show support.
The soldiers who occupied the information ministry were fed up with their dictatorship and wanted everyone to know it. So they marched into the state-run TV studios — there are no private media — and broadcast a call for implementation of a constitution ratified 16 years ago but still gathering dust, and the release of political prisoners, of which there are as many as 10,000. Then they went back to their barracks. Arrests followed, but the message was out.
Only Eritreans can bring this about, but there are things we could do to lessen the suffering of the victims of this tyranny.
Many commentators called this a “failed coup,” but they missed the point. The protesters were not asking for power, just a crack in the wall, the payoff the entire society has been waiting for over the past half century of sacrifice and struggle, which the leader of their independence movement, Isaias Afwerki, is denying them. And they are not going to stay quiet any longer.
Tens of thousands have fled a tyrannical regime often compared to North Korea: Eritrea has one political party; no national elections, ever; no organizations not controlled by the state, including religious denominations; no independent media; no space for raising any questions about government policies. Yet when Eritreans escape, usually at great personal risk, they often find themselves treated like criminals — or just turned away.
The worst off are the victims of a human trafficking ring in which refugees are kidnapped from camps in Sudan and taken to the Egyptian Sinai, where Bedouin criminal gangs torture them during phone calls to relatives while forcing them to beg for ransoms as high as $30,000. One I spoke with in Tel Aviv recently, a 28-year-old former computer programmer, had lost all use of his badly disfigured hands after being hung from them for weeks while awaiting payments.
There is only one solution for this global human rights crisis: a change in the situation in Eritrea so the exodus can be reversed, not simply blocked or rerouted.
What is needed — and what these courageous young protesters are calling for — is a constitutional framework for a transition to democracy and the release of those detained for simply voicing their yearning for it. Only Eritreans can bring this about, but there are things we could do to lessen the suffering of the victims of this tyranny while helping them stand up to it.
The first is vigorous action to halt the trafficking of Eritreans in the Egyptian Sinai. This is complicated by treaty obligations arising from the 1978 pact with Israel that limit Egypt’s military presence, as well as by Egypt’s unsettled political environment. But the presence of a multinational force with a strong American component would give us a wedge to tackle this.
Meanwhile, borrowing a page from the anti-apartheid campaigns of the 1980s, we should pressure international mining companies now throwing a lifeline to the regime to suspend operations until basic rights are extended to the population and the government demonstrates that the mines are not worked by unpaid conscript labor, as a Human Rights Watch report alleged last month. Eritreans will take care of the rest.
Eritrean Army Tanks Foil Freedom Call by Dissidents
Source: Frost Illustrated, published 30 January
(GIN)-Army tanks surrounded the information ministry in central Asmara on Jan. 21, ending a brief takeover by mutineers who commandeered state TV to demand the release of political detainees.
Dissident Eritrean soldiers called on the government to free prisoners convicted of political crimes, numbering between 5,000 and 10,000 according to the U.N.
Some observers doubted that the takeover was an attempt to overthrow the government of Eritrea, led by Isaias Afewerki, 66, for about two decades since it broke away from neighbor Ethiopia.
“There were no shootings,” Eritrean-American journalist Salem Solomon told the Al Jazeera news wire. “The main opposition to the government is coming from people who are abroad.? In Eritrea, there hasn’t been much resistance.”
Selam Kidane, an Eritrean activist and director of the human rights group, Release Eritrea, told Al Jazeera that those that took part in the takeover were young people fed up with the situation in the country.
“These were young soldiers-new recruits and those who were forced into the army,” she said. “Instead of fleeing the country as in the past, they are now standing up and acting.”
One of Africa’s smallest nations, Eritrea has one of the largest armies in the region due to national service that continues for many years, sometimes indefinitely for both men and women.
There is no independent media in Eritrea. All public programs are recorded and broadcast from the ministry.
Eritrea: PFDJ’s pick and mix response to Forto 2013
by Selam Kidane
When I was a primary school my teacher from grade one was my favourite teacher… one day during lunch hour, we all saw her being led away across our play ground wailing whilst being held by some of the other teachers (including one of my least favourite teachers)…so I assumed that the nasty teacher was harming her and shared my version of events to my friends, a more astute friend had noticed that she was holding her arm in a rather awkward position and so the assumption included a hurt arm and the plot was thicker… we then heard some of the play ground assistants talking about our teachers husband who was an airline pilot who came to pick her up and we assumed that she was being flown for medical treatment by her husband… we were worried sick and angry at the teacher who was holding her and leading her away. At the after-lunch prayers before classes we all prayed for Ms Zewditu and her bad arm and also prayed that her husband will fly the aeroplane safely and return her to us as quickly as possible hopefully before home time please God!… the perplexed supply teacher who took us for the afternoon lessons didn’t know where to begin…and so she either didn’t bother to tell us what happened or told us and we didn’t buy it…. I can’t remember… what I do remember is for the rest of primary school we were very protective of Ms Zewditu and that arm…
…pfdj seem to be reacting to the events of last Monday in a rather similar manner … fusing one imagined scenario to another and then sealing that through their wishes and prayers… no one seems to bother fine details of plausibility and the even finer details for believability…
…when something momentous happens in Eritrea pfdj goes silent… so silent that you could hear a pin drop in alenalki.com…. they hold their collective gasp and look to TV Eri to tell them what to tell each other and the rest of the world… unfortunately for them last Monday Forto was telling them… Unconditional release of all prisoners of conscience, Implementation of the constitution and that power be passed to the people… the poor goons couldn’t believe what they were seeing so went to Dimtsi hafash and willed the static noise to tell them that they only imagined what they heard and saw!
It took quiet a while for them but by Sunday night pfdj were on Forto 2013 version five or six.
ER Tv popping back up and trying to carry on as normal probably works well for fooling those who have already deluded themselves and are too willing to dance the niHna Nisu tune… unfortunately for pfdj… it wasn’t just diaspora goons who wanted to know what on earth was going on…. It was the world! So they we back to the drawing board and came back with another array of a multiple choice of what happened at Forto on Mondy 21st of Jan…
Fist off the mark was probably a certain Ambassador Estifanos on twitter… and barking mad wouldn’t describe what that man churns out by way of tweets… at one point I thought his twitter account was hacked, by someone who is intent on making pfdj look bad! Basically the good Ambassador (in between warning Martin Plaut not to breath… Leonard Vincent not to utter a single word and Dan Connel not to even look at the word Eritrea in the dictionary), told us that there was nothing going on in Eritrea and that there were no soldiers on the site at Forto… the tanks were a product of Asmarinos’ imagination…
Then Ambassador Araya Desta of the UN mission sprang to action… ok it wasn’t nothing it was a tiny incy wincey… action by few people and it disrupted broadcast momentarily… but all is well and we are all back in business and I am still the Ambassador (you could almost hear the ‘phew!’ in his statement!)… that was Monday evening…
And that is all the confirmation that was needed that SOMETHING MASSIVE had indeed taken place… the thing is the government of Eritrea categorically denies the existence of any opposition and here was Araya Desta telling the world that there was enough opposition and organisation that could effect the disruption to any dictator’s choice instrument of disinformation …there were people not just ordinary people!… soldiers… who had enough presence to overpower an entire ministry… so vital that it was placed in a forte! A relevant context here is that a meeting of over 7 people is illegal in Eritrea and unless Ambassador Araya was telling us that they were communicating telepathically… he was admitting that tens of soldiers were meeting and planning this momentous operation and had the courage to actually mount it… what a glorious accolade he was paying the gallant heroes of Forto!
… it is perhaps the resounding support for the EDF that perhaps triggered Yemane Monkey, in his capacity as a special advisor to the president, decided to start a twitter campaign… of: ‘look how ordinarily ordinary things are in Asmara…people are even getting married’ (January is the wedding season in Eritrea!)… and then for good measure and in an inadvertent indication of pfdj’s strategy for forthcoming implementation…. Good old Monkey told us that the few shots and that momentary blinking of TV ERi was caused by Islamists! We were meant to jump up and down and retort … ‘look the leaders of Forto and all those that have been arrested since then are all Moslems’ and add two and two and make hamshay mesrriE!! 1994 style!!… across the globe Eritrean youth responded… this is Forto 2013 and that is all of us!!
ArbiHarnet made 10,000 calls telling people inside the country what took place and then followed it up with a stern warning to Monkey and his colleagues… London youth raided the pfdj embassy and showed the world exactly whose side people are on… Stockholm, Frankfurt and Houston followed suit… DC, Telaviv and Milan are promising much more…
Sensing that the monkey magic had lost its shine on us, of all the people in the universe… Ambassador Gashie Girma Asmerom jumped in, in the act and he as always was perplexed as to why people didn’t quiet see things from his perspectives… it wasn’t a coup silly!… it was just a bunch of hooligan terrorists! Now please go and change them headlines and let’s get back to me pretending I have a very important job here in Addis…look it is important that you take my word for it !… I am even talking about this myself and have not sent Lij Biniam with a scribbled note in hand, as I usually do!
I am sure that statement persuaded no one… but pfdj had saved the best for second last! The last will be when IA appears and tells us… something like: I have no idea what you were talking about I was watching Ethiopia loose 4-0 at the African cup of nations… I am sure that was being broadcasted live! Wasn’t it?
… if something ridiculous (too ridiculous even by pfdj standard) needs saying pfdj look to the Mountain… and true to nature Thomas Mountain the last white man standing in Eritrea, the only, Issias t-shirt wearing, ‘independent journalist’ in the world came on board telling us, what I will have to quote him because you will definitely not believe me!
Mountain started by telling us that three disgruntled officers led an entire Division under false pretences and without the knowledge of anyone and were able to move them across the country (complete with their tanks and other equipment) and then when the incident was foiled (by a quick thinking technician).. the officers fled on foot and were caught later…
If you believe the above then you will have no problems believing the bit that I have to quote because it really does beggar belief…
“…All’s well that ends well and the three “mutinous” officers were duly found and arrested. The “mutinous” national service citizen soldiers were taken out to a very tasty dinner at the Malobar restaurant (quite a treat for troops used to a diet of sorghum, chick peas and lentils), spent the night in the daKorea apartments were they enjoyed hot showers, clean sheets and comfortable beds for a change. The next day they and their tanks returned to their base with a well deserved thanks from the countries leaders.”
Probably sensing that no one believes a word he says Mountain concludes by seeking alibis…
“To most Eritreans, 90% or more, and especially so amongst the youth doing their national service, Eritrean President Issias Aferworki is Eritrea’s George Washington, as in “first in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen”. You don’t have to take my word for this, all you have to do is visit Eritrea during the carnival week leading up to Independence Day celebrations in May.”
I could almost hear the gallant EDF heroes sniggering ‘alla wedi gobo!’…
Viva Forto 2013
This is a week to pay tributes….
Obviously the Forto 2013 lions have changed my life and my activism forever I thank them…
My colleagues at ArbiHarnet who sprung into action like never before (their insomnia rising rose to new heights)… who managed to make 10,000 phone calls on Monday and over 200 serious messages to PFDJ on Tuesday and an amazing online concert with over ten artists and a following of thousands by Sunday…Viva Forto 2013!
my colleagues from EYSC UK, EYSNS, West London activists, Assenna.com… and every one who dared to do the unthinkable in London recorded it and unleashed it on the world… (I still get the jitters thinking about it all!)
members of our amazing youth movement whose are showing solidarity with their counterparts at the EDF showing pfdj what our Resistance is really made of!
Assenna.com, Asmarino.com, Awate.com, Radio Erena, Radio Wegahta, Aoulis.com, Farajat.com… long live the Eritrean independent media!!
And finally our friends in the internation media… all those who followed and echoed the calls of Forto 3013…(too many to mention) but exceptionally Aljezeera…
Last but not least… Leonard Vincent, Martin Plaut and Tegadalay Dan Connel for being the best friends that the current day Resistance Movement, could ever wish for!
January 21: As Told By Official Isaias Afwerki Apologists
….We have started and we will finish! Come find us at the all happening place AKA EYSC Facebook page!
On January 28, a representative from the pro-Isaias regime “Eritrean community” in the US made the following “official” announcement at a Paltalk room (Eritrean unity worldwide-EPLF 1). What follows is a summary of the 9-minute audio presentation in Tigrinya. Words in brackets are ours.
1. On January 21, at 10:00 am the Ministry of Information was surrounded by members of the Eritrean Defense Forces who had been sent there, under false pretenses of trying to solve a problem within the ministry, by their leaders.
2. Their leaders, holding pistols, numbered five. The innocent followers were about sixty five. They had arrived there [from place undisclosed] on transport vehicles and were hauling tanks.
3. Inside, the five leaders [no names given] demanded that their announcement [what the announcement is is not specified: its like garlic to a vampire] be read out. The announcement was read but due to the creativity of the MoI staff, it was never broadcast, although the leaders of the incident may have thought so.
4. Eventually, the authorities sent someone [no name] to find out what was going on. There was an exchange of fire, one person [name, title, undisclosed] was wounded, but he is recovering [since he said this as an assurance, we can assume he is somebody whose life is valuable, ie, he is pro-Isaias Afwerki.]
5. The sixty-five innocent members of the defense forces were given the required hospitality and care and sent back to their bases.
6. The five leaders attempted an escape. Three [no name given] were captured, the other two [no name given] escaped. Subsequently, security forces captured one [no name.] The remaining one was found by security forces, he started shooting and [awateteam: here we will attempt a near verbatim translation]: “tekariju dikum tblwo? he was disposed of, is that how you say it?” [mocking his death is ok, because he was not a “good guy.”]
7. From the civilian side, Abdella Jaber and Mustapha Nurhussein have been detained. [awateteam: this was said as an aside, as an afterthought. He is talking about two individuals who had been loyal members of EPLF/PFDJ for decades–the former was in charge of organizational affairs for the ruling party; the latter was a governor of one of Eritrea’s six provinces. No explanation was given as to why they are arrested. Of course.]
Victory to the masses!
[unless Isaias Afwerki is displeased by that]
Source: Gedab News
From Thomas Mountain
The Eritrean “Coup” That Never Was
The New York Times and its cult followers in the American media, amongst others, manufactured an attempted “coup” that never happened in the small East African country of Eritrea.
The story of this “attempted coup” began last Monday morning, January 21 in a small garrison base south of here when three disgruntled officers told their command that they were being transferred to the capital Asmara to guard the Ministry of Information. Excited to be leaving their remote location for life in the capital the citizen soldiers in the command packed their bags, loaded their two tanks on to their trailers, saddled up and headed for the big city.
Several hours later the unit arrived at the unguarded gates of the Eritrean Ministry of Information, unloaded their tanks and, according to neighbors, proceeded to engage in boisterous horseplay on and around their equipment.
In the meantime the three miscreant officers barged their way into the television studios of Eritrean TV and waving a pistol around demanded a political screed be read over the air.
A quick thinking technician in the broadcast system quickly cut of the signal and their plan was suddenly still born.
In the meantime the youngsters in their command outside began to get wind that something was wrong, and when they found out what was going on inside the EriTV studios they “mutinied”, as in stopped obeying their commanding officers orders which eventually included a command for them to open fire on their fellow Eritreans.
Seeing that the jig was up the three “mutineers” absconded on foot from the Ministry escaping down the cliffs behind the old “Forto”, once the headquarters for the Italian Colonial Army in Eritrea.
All’s well that ends well and the three “mutinous” officers were duly found and arrested. The “mutinous” national service citizen soldiers were taken out to a very tasty dinner at the Malobar restaurant (quite a treat for troops used to a diet of sorghum, chick peas and lentils), spent the night in the daKorea apartments were they enjoyed hot showers, clean sheets and comfortable beds for a change. The next day they and their tanks returned to their base with a well deserved thanks from the countries leaders.
The moral of the story is that the reality on the ground here in Eritrea is that the military is composed of citizen soldiers, not the “professional” ie mercenary armies found in most of the rest of Africa. Our youth are all required to participate in the National Service program and are paid a very small salary for their services. In other words, they see their national service, no matter the difficult conditions or seemingly endless term of service as their patriotic duty.
Being that the Ethiopian army launched division scale attacks (a division is made up of some 5,000 soldiers) at least three times in 2012 alone their families here in Eritrea really need them to keep us safe from invasion by the notoriously brutal Ethiopian military camped out 500,000 strong on our borders.
The whole description of this incident, what I have described as “a tempest in a teapot”, as an attempted “coup” by some of the truth challenged western media is made moot when anyone familiar with the streets of Asmara will tell you that to get to the hill top Ministry of Information one first has to drive past the Office of the President.
To most Eritreans, 90% or more, and especially so amongst the youth doing their national service, Eritrean President Issias Aferworki is Eritrea’s George Washington, as in “first in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen”.
You don’t have to take my word for this, all you have to do is visit Eritrea during the carnival week leading up to Independence Day celebrations in May (like award winning producer Afshin Rattansi and his film crew did in 2012) and see for yourself the 100,000 and more young people partying in the streets, almost all of who are doing their national service duty. Not a firearm in sight, not a fight to be seen, and the President himself walking down the middle of the street at the height of the party surrounded by tens of thousands of his country’s youth.
I don’t think any Eritrean familiar with the reality here, especially amongst the youth, would ever imagine a coup being possible. Even if a group of officers were to try such they would quickly find that the citizen soldiers in the Eritrean military would quickly “mutiny” as was the case in the “tempest in a teapot” on Jan. 21, the coup that never happened.
Thomas C. Mountain is the most widely distributed independent journalist in Africa, living and reporting from Eritrea since 2006. He can be reached at thomascmountain_at_yahoo_dot_com.
From Crisisgroup blogs
Street in Eritrea’s capital Asmara. PHOTO: FLICKR/Jacopo
On Monday 21 January, a number of unofficial sources reported that 100 or so soldiers had invaded Eritrea’s Ministry of Information and taken over state-owned Eri-TV. During their occupation, the soldiers began broadcasting a statement demanding the implementation of the constitution — never enacted by Parliament — and the release of thousands of political prisoners, including a number of high-profile journalists, and former ministers, senior military officers and officials known as the “G15”, before the station went off air. The rest of the armed forces were described as “quiet”, as was the city, and no shots were fired either in the taking or surrender of the Ministry.
It is hard to tell what exactly happened, or why. News from Asmara is opaque at the best of times, and this apparent military-led protest — or “small incident” as the Eritrean government is terming it — is the latest in a number of informally reported developments, only a few substantiated, suggesting cracks in the unusually regimented state. Since there are no accredited independent journalists in Eritrea, the only alternative to government media is diaspora-driven opposition news websites. These can be illuminating, because Eritrea is a curiously intimate place, with members of the same family occupying top government positions while their close relatives are vocal anti-government activists abroad.
What has emerged was that 2012 was a remarkably newsworthy year for the usually unnoticed county. It began with Ethiopia and Eritrea trading accusations after foreign tourists were attacked and five killed by Ethiopian rebel groups in the Afar region, which is close to the border between the two states. Addis claimed the rebels were under Eritrean direction, justifying Ethiopian reprisals in March against rebel camps across the border. Further incursions were reported in late May — just after Eritrean Independence day — with Ethiopian troops apparently occupying new positions inside Asmara’s territory. Eritrean forces, surprisingly and perhaps ominously for their government, put up little resistance.
From late March until late April, the normally omnipresent Eritrean President Isaias Afkwerki was absent from public life, prompting speculation he was sick, even dead. When he reappeared, little explanation was given, and he looked in good health at Independence Day celebrations. Coincidentally a few months after Isaias resurfaced, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi disappeared from public life; his death was announced on 21 August.
Meles’s death was studiously underplayed by the Eritrean government, though it was a topic of anxious speculation among the population at large, who were concerned about a change in Ethiopian policy — Meles was popularly perceived as less hawkish towards Eritrea. At that time information emerged that the Eritrean government was arming civilians — many of whom have basic military training — apparently unconcerned that weapons might be later turned against the government.
By the latter half of 2012, more rumours were circulating of discord in the government about the state and direction of the country and the ups and downs of high-profile ministers and military commanders, variously perceived as pro-reform or rivals to the president. Indicative of declining morale, in early October, two air force pilots absconded with the presidential plane toSaudi Arabia, claimed asylum, and made a statement critical of their head of state. But this was just one, albeit dramatic example, of the tens of thousands of other Eritreans who fled during the year. The last unconfirmed rumour in November was that the stalwart Minister of Information, Ali Abdu, had also disappeared.
What does the latest incident signify?
It ended peacefully, at least so it seemed. The protesting soldiers were transported to the outskirts of Asmara, their fate so far unknown. Web-based reports claim that the government is talking to the protest leader, Colonel Saleh Osman, a veteran of the liberation war and respected serving officer reputed to have refused orders to withdraw from the city of Assab during the 1998-2000 border war with Ethiopia– a last stand that, many Eritreans believe, pushed Ethiopia to agree to a peace deal.
Some sources claim that with the TV protest, Saleh was simply demanding political reform. But others suggest that this is a well-orchestrated warning by senior military figures who stand to lose from political and economic reform that the ruling People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) has been mooting for the past year. Either way, partisan analysis dominates.
While not a coup, or even a mutiny, this highly unusual behaviour by Eritrea’s troops, is still significant. The last major protest by “veteran” fighters was in 1993, and this incident comes in the 20th anniversary year of Eritrea’s formal independence. Of course, the Eritrean calendar starts in September, so we are already well into what seems to be a momentous though uncertain year for Eritrea.
Source: International Crisis Group
From Awate, 25 January 2013
Eritrean Regime Rounds Up Suspects Behind The Siege
1. As we reported yesterday, while the Eritrean regime publicly downplays the Monday siege of Eritrea’s Ministry of Information (MoI), it has cast a wide net to arrest anyone it suspects of having anything to do with the one-day occupation of the MoI building, aka “Forto” or “enda zena” and it has started, at its most senior levels, a defamation campaign reminiscent of its 2001 crackdown on the G-15.
2. On Tuesday morning, January 22, 2012, the regime arrested Abdella Jaber and Amanuel “Hanjema” Haile. Abdella Jaber is the Director of Organizational Affairs for the ruling party, the PFDJ, and a member of its Executive Committee. The party hasn’t had an organizational congress since 1994 and the Youth-PFDJ actually reports not to him but to Yemane “monkey” Gebreab, who is the Director of Political Affairs of PFDJ and a “presidential advisor.” Amanuel “Hanjema” Haile was the political commissar in Division 96 in the “Southern Red Sea” Front, when it was under the command of Samuel “China” Haile. He had been “frozen” lately.
3. On Wednesday, at noon, dozens of soldiers and plainclothes security officers surrounded the residence of Mustafa Nurhussein, arrested him, and he has been taken to an undisclosed position. Mustafa Nurhussein is the regional administrator (governor) of the South Zone. South Zone is sometimes known by the local word for South: Debub. (Historically, and until the redistricting and renaming of 1996 this area, was known by its two component parts: Akeleguzay and Seraye.) Mustafa Nurhussein is often seen hosting Isaias Afwerki when he is making “inspection tours” of the South Zone and was, until recently, reputed to have close friendship with the president. On January 18, Mustafa Nurhussein had attended a “regional administrators” meeting chaired by President Isaias Afwerki.
4. Also on Wednesday, Eritrea’s ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, Osman Jem’ee Idris (as well other government representatives to other embassies–whose names may be disclosed in future publication) have (if they were in Eritrea, that is) been taken to prison or placed under house arrest.
5. Colonel Saleh Osman, whose unit was reportedly responsible for the siege of the MoI building on Monday, is in the Adi Keyih/Dekemhare area, in the highlands of the South Zone. His soldiers have prevented any security forces from approaching and they have demanded that nobody, besides military police, can approach them for negotiations.
When we reported that Abdella Jaber and Mustapha Nurhussein have been arrested, given the headline of the news, the implication is that it is related to the incidents of Monday at the Ministry of Information. This is not necessarily the case. They may be arrested for completely unrelated issues–since people, including senior officials, are arrested in Eritrea every day.
From Bloomberg, 25 January 2013
Eritrea Mutiny Shows Growing Military Discontent With Isaias
A day-long mutiny by Eritrean soldiers this week signals growing discontent with President Isaias Afwerki’s two-decade grip on power and economic hardship, said analysts including Dan Connell at Simmons College.
The rare show of dissent against what Human Rights Watch describes as one of the world’s most repressive regimes also fuels speculation that Isaias, 66, may be ailing, according to Stratfor, the Austin, Texas-based intelligence group. The former rebel leader has ruled the Horn of Africa nation since 1991, when a 30-year war for independence from neighboring Ethiopia ended. Eritrea is a one-party state.
“Dissatisfaction inside the military is widespread, especially at the middle and lower levels,” Connell, the author of seven books on the country, said in an e-mailed response to questions yesterday. “I expect more of this in the coming months, particularly if the regime cracks down heavily.”
Eritrea is among the most difficult places in the world to do business and is ninth from bottom in a ranking of the poorest countries, according to the World Bank. Private industry is constrained by “haphazard” regulations, foreign-currency restrictions and the “high risk” of assets being expropriated, the African Development Bank said on its website.
The country relies on gold and other metals produced by Nevsun Resources Ltd.’s (NSU) Bisha mine and remittances from a tax it imposes on Eritreans living abroad to generate most of its foreign exchange. About a quarter of Eritrea’s 5.4 million population lives overseas and are threatened with having their entry rights withdrawn, their properties seized or families harassed if they don’t pay, according to the United Nations.
As many as 200 soldiers stormed the Ministry of Information building that houses state television in the capital, Asmara, on Jan. 21 and took its occupants hostage, according to Stratfor. A newsreader then read a list of demands including calls for the release of political prisoner and the implementation of a 1997 constitution, it said on its website.
The occupation ended after troops loyal to Isaias surrounded the building, the mutineers released their hostages and agreed to return to their base, Stratfor said.
The mutiny was “probably a show of force by more senior elements of the military, in an effort to nudge along political and economic reform,” Michael Woldemariam, professor of International Relations and an expert on African politics at Boston University, said in an e-mailed response to questions.
The rebellion may have been led by General Saleh Osman, a veteran of Eritrea’s independence war who previously engaged in talks for democratization with the president’s office, according to Stratfor. General Filipos Woldeyohannes, a former confidant of Isaias who “fell from grace,” may also have been involved, it said.
“While these troops did not receive the support from other military commanders that they were apparently hoping for, they were able to cast doubt on the ability of the regime to protect itself,” Stratfor said.
Isaias may be suffering from a liver ailment and has sought medical treatment in Qatar, according to a Feb. 16, 2011, report by Awate.com, a California-based opposition website. The government in April denied what it said was an “intensive campaign of rumor” that the president is terminally ill.
“There is no second-in-command and no single general who could take Isaias’s place, so the only viable option to avoid a major rupture for those in power for a transition is a committee of some sort that brings together representatives of the main power centers,” Connell said.
The dissidents may have been targeting a faction within the ruling People’s Front for Democracy and Justice, or PFDJ, and military officials who back the president, Michael said.
Isaias and loyalists have been arresting senior military and political figures since Jan. 23 in response to the rebellion, said Abel Abate Demissie, a researcher at the Ethiopian government-linked Ethiopian International Institute for Peace and Development, citing unidentified Eritrean sources.
“Isaias knows there are prominent people in a power struggle who are conspiring and he’s started to react,” he said in a telephone interview from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital. “I am sure fractures will broaden in the coming days and months. The writing is on the wall.”
The government hasn’t officially acknowledged the Jan. 21 incident. Phone calls and text messages seeking comment to the mobile-phone of Eritrea’s Ambassador to the African Union Girma Asmerom haven’t been answered since Jan. 21.
“The opacity surrounding Eritrea’s government is thickest when it comes to internal power struggles and the fates of political prisoners,” Mohamed Keita, Africa advocacy coordinator at the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, said in a phone interview on Jan. 23.
Eritrea outlawed private media in 2001 and the government has arbitrarily detained thousands of people including journalists and opposition supporters over the past decade, according to Amnesty International, the London-based advocacy group.
The implementation of Eritrea’s constitution has been suspended since war broke out with Ethiopia in 1998 because of a dispute about ownership of the border town of Badme. The two- year conflict cost 70,000 lives. Eritrea is still on a war footing over the unresolved dispute, Girma said on Jan. 16. Conscripts to the army, public services and industry have been “permanently mobilized” since the conflict, he said.
The country has been under UN sanctions since 2009 for supporting Ethiopian rebels and al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab militants in their battle against a Western-backed government in Somalia. Eritrea denies the charges and says Ethiopia is in defiance of international law for stalling implementation of a 2002 decision by a UN border committee that awarded Badme to Eritrea.
Nevsun, based in Vancouver, said the Jan. 21 incident had no impact on operations at Bisha, which also produces copper and zinc. The stock has fallen 9.1 percent in Toronto since the mutiny, trading at C$4.20 as of 9:58 a.m. local time. Sunridge Gold Corp. (SGC), which is drilling for gold in Eritrea, has fallen 8.1 percent and traded at 26.5 Canadian cents in Toronto.
South Boulder Mines Ltd. (STB), based in Perth, is building a potash mine in Eritrea, while China SFECO, a unit of Shanghai Construction Co. (600170), bought the Zara Project off Australia’s Chalice Gold Mines Ltd. (CHN) last year.
Ethiopia is concerned about a “crumbled” regime “taking down” the region with it, said Getachew Reda, a spokesman for Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn. Addis Ababa will take “proportional measures” against Eritrean subversion and wants negotiations on the border, he said.
“I think the world would be better off without Isaias,” he said. “But it’s not for us to decide whether Isaias should go.”
From al-Jazeera, 23 January 2013
When mutiny came to Eritrea
|A mutiny in Eritrea went almost completely unnoticed when renegade troops staged one of the strongest challenges yet to the country’s authoritarian rule.On Monday, a group of soldiers stormed the Ministry of Information, briefly taking over the state-run television service in an apparent rebellion, which failed. They called for a change in the constitution and the release of political prisoners. Rights groups say up to 10,000 are being held.|
|“I think it’s a serious incident that reflects a growing dissent within the Eritrean government, the army and the population at large.“– Abdurrahman Elsayyid, the Eritrean National Democratic Forces
The small country in the horn of Africa remains isolated and is often described as repressed.
With thousands of political prisoners, a constitution that remains in limbo, and a president who has failed to keep promises of reform, analysts say more challenges are inevitable.
Eritrea is a secretive nation that has been ruled by one president and one party, the People’s Front for Democracy and Justice, since it gained independence in 1993.
Now the tiny nation is in the headlines for an army mutiny that may – or may not – have been a coup attempt. But analysts say it is only a matter of time before Eritrea’s President Isaias Afawerki is confronted again.
The man who the US once praised as a renaissance leader had promised elections, and to open up the political system, neither of which materialised.
The country’s reportedly poor human rights record and restrictive press laws have drawn comparisons with North Korea – an image the president disputes.
|“This is the problem of the country – Eritrea’s inability to transition to a normal state after the war with Ethiopia is at the root of the problem. There is a lot of frustration among young people who see no opportunity for social mobility in a country that is increasingly becoming paranoid.“– Kwaku Nuamah, American University’s School of International Service
In a growing list of challenges it faces, Eritrea’s government has to contend with:
- Data that estimates nearly half of the population lives below the poverty line
- Most of the country’s working population is in uniform – Eritrea has more soldiers per person than any other country besides North Korea
- Its young men are enlisted to fend off what it calls “aggression from Ethiopia”
- The UN claims it is arming and supporting al-Shabab rebels in Somalia, something it denies
- A growing youthful population is dissatisfied with shrinking opportunities and little choice but to join the army
- Human rights groups accuse the government of torture and summary executions.
- Transparency International ranks it as one of the most corrupt countries in the world
Back on the ground, attempts at forcing reform appear to have been put down for now, but with discontent growing among the military and the powerful Eritrean diaspora alike, it may be a sign of things to come.
To discuss this and other issues, Inside Story with presenter Shiulie Ghosh is joined by guests: Abdurrahman Elsayyid from the Eritrean National Democratic Forces, a pro-democracy network committed to the advocacy and promotion of human rights; Jason Mosley, an associate fellow for the Africa Programme at Chatham House; and Kwaku Nuamah, an assistant professor at the American University’s School of International Service.
|“I really don’t find comparisons with North Korea constructive in any meaningful way for understanding the Eritrean context – just because the superficial parallels don’t stack up after you start digging a little bit. It is also quite important to keep in mind the regional context that Eritrea had merged into an independent nation.”- Jason Mosley – Africa Programme at Chatham House|
From Reuters, 22 January 2013
No sign of Eritrea mutineers as calm returns
By Richard Lough
NAIROBI | Tue Jan 22, 2013 1:38pm GMT
(Reuters) – Dissident Eritrean soldiers who had seized the information ministry were gone on Tuesday and calm returned to the capital, Asmara, an Eritrean envoy and Western diplomat said.
The soldiers took over the ministry on Monday to demand the release of thousands of political prisoners, a sign of a deepening rift between some factions of the military and the secretive country’s president, Isaias Afewerki.
Eritrea’s envoy to South Africa said there had been a “small incident” at the ministry but that order had been restored.
“The situation in Asmara and elsewhere is no different from any other day,” Salih Omar Abdu told Reuters. State television was back on air. Its main headline was heavy snow in Paris.
It was unclear how order had been restored in the one-party state, where dissent is typically dealt with harshly.
The Red Sea country has become increasingly isolated under the two-decade rule of 66-year-old former guerrilla Isaias, who led Eritrea to independence in 1993 after a 30-year war with the government in Ethiopia.
Eritrea has long been at odds with the West. The United Nations accused it last year of torture and summary executions.
Growing economic hardship for many Eritreans – despite an influx of investment from gold miners – is eating away at Isaias’ support base, regional diplomats and academics say.
That includes within the army, which has more soldiers per person than any country except North Korea, they say.
Internal fighting over power was an increasing problem for Isaias, said one U.S.-based academic who declined to give his name because he still has family in Eritrea.
“He has his back up against a wall,” the academic said.
In 2001, a group of 15 senior officials, including ministers, wrote an open letter to Isaias demanding political reform. A number remain jailed without trial, rights groups say.
After that incident, Isaias had turned to the military, the academic said, but the increasingly powerful forces then started to make demands that went beyond security.
The mutineers this week, about 200 soldiers backed by tanks, had not made public demands beyond the release of political prisoners – estimated by the United Nations to number between 5,000 and 10,000 in the country of about 6 million people.
One U.S.-based Eritrean opposition website said the mutiny leader was Saleh Osman, a prominent military figure in the 1998-2000 border war with Ethiopia. Awate.com said he appeared to be “trying to jolt back negotiations for democratization.”
He was not contactable and it was not possible to verify independently. Eritrea restricts the access of foreign journalists and has one of the world’s worst press-freedom records.
An exiled member of the opposition Eritrean National Council for Democratic Change said the uprising had followed efforts to defuse tensions between two army factions, one loyalist and the other known to voice criticism of Isaias, albeit internally.
Yemane Ghebremeskel, director of the president’s office, said on Twitter: “All is calm today as it was indeed yesterday.”
Eritrea occupies a strategic strip of mountainous land overlooking the entrance to the Gulf of Aden, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.
Shares in gold companies with mines or projects fell sharply on Monday. Toronto-listed Nevsun Resources Ltd was down 9 percent. Those in the small explorer Sunridge Gold Corp were at one point in the session down 26 percent.
“These events have had no effect on Sunridge’s ongoing engineering studies and drilling operations in the country,” the Vancouver-listed company said in a statement.
(Additional reporting by Aaron Maasho in Addis Ababa and Ed Cropley in Johannesburg; Writing by Richard Lough, Editing by Matthew Tostevin)
From Asmarion website 22 January 2013
10,000 phone messages of support for the movement for democratic changes.
Following a momentous move for democratic changes in Eritrea, on Monday 21st of Jan 2013, the Diaspora based youth initiative ArbiHarnet (Freedom Friday) sent nearly 10,000 automated phone messages to members of the public in Eritrea.
The messages that were translated and posted on Eritrean Face Book Pages outlined the positiveness of the movement and encouraged the public to support it as a natural continuation of their struggle for democracy and justice.
The unexpected action taken by a 200 strong group of young army recruits took the entire country by surprise, when the group forced themselves into the buildings of the Ministry of Information (based in an old forte from the Italian Colonial era) and made the director of the National TV Broadcast to read out their demands. The demands were lengthy but started with the implementation of the 1997 constitution and the release of all prisoners of conscience. After reading the top two demands transmission was cut off and both National TV and Radio were off air for a period of four hours, during which time some other key locations like the air force base and the airport as well as the central bank were said to be under the control of the mountaineering soldiers.
Realising that the Eritrean public was in the dark about all this, Project ArbiHarnet mounted a quick operation to send 10,000 automated messages on the evening of Monday the 21st and of the 10,766 numbers dialled 9,419 received the message successfully.
Organisers of the initiative stated: ‘for a whole year we have been phoning members of the public and encouraging people to organise themselves for such a communal action and we are certain that this is a beginning of something much bigger, we will continue to pursue this strategy of reaching out to the public and piercing the government’s iron curtains’.
Initial feedback from Eritrea is positive; those who were engaged in a follow up call say that the calls generated hope and some excitement as well as a bit more information about the movement for change inside the country.
From my sources, 22 January 2013
The soldiers who were involved in what the government calls a “small incident” are saying today that while they don’t claim success, they are not calling their action a failure either. They have returned to their base in an area called Qushet in the suburbs of Asmara. Ministry of Information employees refused to talk to anyone last night (not even to their colleagues who were not held in the siege). According to my sources there have not, so far, been any arrests or killings.
From the BBC, 22 February 2013
Eritrea’s capital is calm a day after mutinous soldiers reportedly stormed the information ministry, sources say, while state TV is back on air.
A European diplomat in Asmara told the AFP news agency that the mutineers had left the ministry building and there was no visible military presence.
Opposition website Awate says the raid was led by an army commander, who has been pushing for political change.
Eritrea has been a one-party state since independence in 1993.
Its government has been criticised by human rights activists, who say it is one of the world’s most repressive and closed countries.
State television is back on air after broadcasts were interrupted for several hours on Monday.
The dissident soldiers reportedly had a statement calling for the implementation of the country’s 1997 constitution and the release of political prisoners read out on air.
Eritrea expert Leonard Vincent, an author and co-founder of a Paris-based Eritrean radio station, told AP news agency the broadcast of the statement was cut off after only two sentences were read out.
There has been no official statement about Monday’s incident.
Yemane Gebremeskel, a director in the president’s office, told AFP that all was calm in Asmara, as it had been on Monday.
The Eritrean ambassador to South Africa, Salih Omar, told AP that there had been no sign of a coup “or any other signs of uprising”.
Awate reported that the daughter of President Isaias Afewerki was caught up in the trouble at the ministry of information.
Mr Isaias, who has ruled since 1993, has little tolerance for criticism and the country does not allow opposition parties, independent journalism or civil society organisations.
From al-Jazeera, 22 January 2013
Eritrea’s government has said the capital Asmara is “calm” a day after armed mutineers seized the information ministry, with opposition sites saying the stand-off was settled.”All is calm today, as it was indeed yesterday,” Yemane Gebremeskel, the director of Eritrean President Issaias Afeworki’s office, said on Tuesday.A group of dissident Eritrean soldiers laid siege to the information ministry on Monday, forcing state media to announce a call for the release of political prisoners.The renegade soldiers forced the director of state television to make an announcement, a senior Eritrean intelligence official said.”The soldiers have forced him to speak on state TV, to say the Eritrean government should release all political prisoners,” the source said on condition of anonymity.Reports from Eritrea are difficult to independently verify, as the country restricts access to foreign media.Selam Kidane, an Eritrean human rights activist and director of human rights organisation, Release Eritrea, told Al Jazeera that details of what had happened were still unclear.”After those announcements were made, the state TV and radio were taken off air for about four hours,” Kidane said.”Early in the day, not many people had a clue as to what was going on – but electrical outages happen, so people were not surprised.”‘Mutineers surrendered’Opposition website Awate.com, based in the United States but with close connections inside Eritrea, said that the commander of around 100 rebel soldiers had agreed to surrender.”The face-off was ‘solved’ when the government ‘accepted his terms'” Awate said, although there were no further details as to what will happen next.The reports were impossible to confirm, and it was not clear if the mutineers had formally surrendered.The state-run Eri-TV television and radio broadcasts were taken off air on Monday, but resumed broadcasting on Tuesday, several sources said.”Eri-TV, under regime loyalists, has resumed broadcasting live,” Awate added.”All Ministry of Information employees have been released.”
Multiple sources reported that one of those held inside the information ministry was the daughter of Issaias, who has ruled the Horn of Africa nation with an iron grip from independence in 1993, following an epic 30-year liberation war from neighbouring Ethiopia.
Kidane said that those that took part in this operation were not senior personnel, but young people fed up with the situation in the country.
“These were not army officers, these were young soldiers – new recruits and those who were forced into the army,” she said.
“Instead of young people fleeing the country and is in the past, they are now standing up and acting.”
Awate claimed the mutineers were led by an army commander called Saleh Osman, a hero of the bloody 1998-2000 border war with Ethiopia, when he refused orders to abandon the key southern port of Assab, defending it and beating back invading Ethiopians.
“The ‘uprising’ appears to have been a case of Saleh Osman trying to jolt back negotiations for democratisation he had been having with the president’s office that have stalled,” Awate added.
The UN last year estimated that 5,000-10,000 political prisoners were being held in the country, which is accused by human rights groups of carrying out torture and summary executions.
The Red Sea state, which declared independence from Ethiopia after a long war, is one of the most opaque countries on the continent.
Eritrean opposition activists exiled in neighbouring Ethiopia said there was growing dissent within the Eritrean military, especially over economic hardships.
“Economic issues have worsened and have worsened relations between the government and soldiers in the past few weeks and months,” one activist said.
The UN Security Council imposed an embargo on Eritrea in 2009 over concerns its government was funding and arming al-Shabab rebels in neighbouring Somalia – charges Eritrea denied.
From Awate website, 21 January 2013
On Monday, January 21 at about 10:00 am local time, there was a commotion at Eritrea’s Ministry of Information (MoI), locally known as “Enda Zena.”
2. It was quickly known that about one hundred (100) young soldiers and officers had surrounded the perimeter and taken over the building.
3. The employees of the MoI describe them as young and friendly–but frustrated and with a grudge against senior officers for their inability to deliver change.
4. They ordered one of the news readers, Asmelash, to read their demand: implementation of the constitution and release of political prisoners.
5. The young officers and soldiers have reassured the employees of the MoI that they will not harm them. They have indicated that they will release women with young children to leave the premises.
6. One of the interns at the MoI is the daughter of Eritrea’s president, Isaias Afwerki.
7. There are reports that the presidential office and the Asmara airport are surrounded by tanks. It is not clear whether these are regime loyalists or supporters of the young officers and soldiers.
8. Senior officers are refusing to take action to suppress the uprising.
9. Cell phones are still working in Eritrea but email is not working–either because of server overload or an attempt to isolate the movement for change.
1. The young officers and soldiers number around 100. It is encouraging that 100 people were able to organize an activity, in a country where it is illegal for more than 7 people to meet.
2. The young officers and soldiers did not demand the resignation of Isaias Afwerki. It is a minimalist demand.
3. It is not clear what the leverage of the young officers and soldiers is, if the regime decides to wait it out until the cafeteria runs out of food.
4. For the event to have momentum, similar activities of soldiers arresting their officers or taking over government institutions in different parts of Eritrea will have to take place.
5. The senior officers–who have been grumbling for years and who have been agonizing about how to start an uprising–have a decision to make. To come to the aid of the young soldiers and officers or to serve the regime. So far, they have taken the wait-and-see position.
New York Times: Coup attempt is said to have failed
GARSEN, Kenya — Eritrea, a sliver of a nation in the Horn of Africa that is one of the most secretive and repressive countries in the world, was cast into confusion on Monday after mutinous soldiers stormed the Ministry of Information and took over the state-run television service, apparently in a coup attempt.
According to several people with close contacts inside Eritrea, the coup attempt failed, with government troops quelling the would-be rebellion and no one rising up in the streets. But many analysts said it was only a matter of time before President Isaias Afwerki, Eritrea’s brash and steely leader for the past 20 years, is overthrown — and most likely from within.
“There’s a lot of dissatisfaction within the armed forces,” said Dan Connell, a professor at Simmons College in Boston and the author of several books on Eritrea. “If this is suppressed, it won’t be the end.”
Eritrea is often called the North Korea of Africa because it is so isolated and authoritarian, with few friends and thousands of defectors in recent years as Mr. Isaias tightens his grip and the economy teeters on the brink of ruin.
In the early 1990s, when Mr. Isaias first took power, Eritrea was hailed as a beacon of hope in Africa, a country of low crime, ethnic harmony and can-do spirit along the Red Sea. The Eritreans fought for years in trenches and from craggy mountaintops to defeat a Soviet-backed Ethiopian government and win their independence.
But the euphoria did not last. In the late 1990s, Eritrea and Ethiopia waged a costly war over their shared border, in which tens of thousands of people died. Shortly afterward, Mr. Isaias rounded up political dissidents and journalists, dooming them to years in prison, often in sweltering, underground shipping containers.
Thousands of young Eritreans have been drafted into the army and then required to work indefinitely for the government for pittance wages in what is called “national service.” Each year, many young people risk their lives to escape.
Eritrea has waged war with just about all of its neighbors, and it has been sanctioned by the United Nations over what is suspected to be its support of Somali militants.
By nightfall on Monday, it seemed that the government had beaten back the mutineers, with some analysts saying that the government broadcaster, Eri-TV, whose motto is “Serving the Truth,” was back on the air.
The rebellious soldiers, believed to number around 100, made it as far as the director’s office in the Ministry of Information, forcing him to read a statement on air calling for the release of political prisoners. Then the broadcast signal abruptly cut out. They also may have briefly taken hostage Mr. Isaias’s daughter, Elsa, who is said to work in the Ministry of Information.
It was not clear what happened to the renegade soldiers; analysts said that troops loyal to the government had surrounded the Ministry of Information and that the mutineers would most likely be captured and imprisoned.
The United States State Department said that the situation remained fluid, and the small embassy in Asmara, Eritrea’s capital, sent out a warning on Monday to the few American citizens living there.
“The U.S. Embassy has been made aware of increased military presence in some sections of Asmara,” the warning said. “Employees of the U.S. government have been advised to limit their movements within the city, avoid large gatherings and exercise caution. We strongly recommend that private U.S. citizens do likewise.”
Dan Connell Eritrea expert writes:
News coming out now suggests the mutiny may be facing a counter move from other military units. If this is stopped, it will be imperative to make a lot of public noise about the dangers of bloody recriminations.And to use this event as a moment to call for international action on the human rights situation there through pressure on the mining companies (Nevsun, Sunridge, Chalice) to halt production until the situation changes. The demands raised here are clear and simple: implement the constitution, free political prisoners, establish a transitional government with broad representation.
From Reuters – A group of Eritrean soldiers laid siege to the information ministry on Monday and forced state media to announce a call for the release of political prisoners, a senior intelligence official said.
There was no immediate indication it was an attempt to overthrow the government of Eritrea, which has been led by Isaias Afewerki, 66, for some two decades since it broke away from bigger neighbor Ethiopia.
The renegade soldiers forced the director of state television to make an announcement, the Eritrean intelligence official said.
“The soldiers have forced him to speak on state TV, to say the Eritrean government should release all political prisoners,” the source told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
There was no immediate official comment.
The United Nations last year estimated that 5,000-10,000 political prisoners were being held in the secretive Horn of Africa country, which is accused by human rights groups of carrying out torture and summary executions.
Dozens of soldiers with two tanks surrounded the ministry building in Asmara, regional diplomatic sources said. They said state television and radio had gone off air.
The gold-producing Red Sea state, which declared independence from Ethiopia after a long war, is one of the most opaque countries on the continent and it restricts access to foreign reporters.
Eritrean opposition activists exiled in neighboring Ethiopia said there was growing dissent within the Eritrean military especially over economic hardships.
“Economic issues have worsened and have worsened relations between the government and soldiers in the past few weeks and months,” one activist told Reuters.
The United Nations’ Security Council imposed an embargo on Eritrea in 2009 over concerns its government was funding and arming al Shabaab rebels in neighboring Somalia – charges Asmara denied.
Gold companies with mines or projects in Eritrea include Sunridge Gold Corp, Nevsun Resources Ltd and Chalice Gold.
An author who writes about the small nation of Eritrea says soldiers took control of the country’s Ministry of Information and read a statement on air saying the 1997 constitution would be applied.
Léonard Vincent, author of the book “The Eritreans” and co-founder of a Paris-based Eritrean radio station, says more than 100 soldiers took control of the ministry Monday morning.
Vincent said that the daughter of Eritrea’s president is among ministry officials being controlled by the soldiers. Vincent stopped short of calling it a coup d’etat and said it’s not yet clear if the action is a well-organized coup attempt or what he called a “kamikaze crash.”
Vincent said his information came from a ministry source and information gathered by Eritrean journalists working at the radio station he co-founded.
From from AFP
Eritrean army tanks besieged the information ministry in central Asmara on Monday after some 200 mutineers seized the building to call for political reform, diplomatic and diaspora sources said Monday.
No shots had been fired and the rest of the city appeared calm, the diplomats added, although very few details were immediately available.
“The ministry of information is under siege,” a diplomat said.
Amanuel Ghirmai, an Eritrean journalist in Paris for independent Radio Erena, said that around a 100 army mutineers stormed the hill-top ministry — which towers over the capital of the Red Sea state — early on Monday morning.
They reportedly ordered news readers at the government-run television and radio station — the only source of media for the authoritarian state –to read a statement that they will implement the country’s constitution.
The statement also reportedly ordered the release of prisoners of conscience.
“We do not know who is leading the situation… everybody has been put into the same room (in the ministry),” Amanuel said, adding that he had spoken to sources in Asmara.
Britain’s foreign office updated its travel advice Monday to say it had received reports of “unusual military movements in and around Asmara”, without giving further details.
The reports were not possible to confirm independently, and all calls to government officials were not answered.
Impoverished Eritrea beats even North Korea to rank last out of 179 countries on the Press Freedom Index of the Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders.
All independent media was shut down after Issaias launched a draconian purge in 2001, while the Horn of Africa nation expelled the last registered foreign correspondent in 2010.
However, Eritrean expatriates who had spoken to compatriots in Asmara said they could confirm reports that troops had been deployed at the information ministry, and that state television Eri-TV had stopped broadcasting, they told AFP.
All Eritrea’s public media are recorded and broadcast from the ministry.
“The local transmission has been cut, the only satellite signal is airing some archives,” Amanuel added.
“Local radio and TV appear to have been shut down; we are seeking further information,” Britain’s foreign office added.
Eritrean President Issaias Afeworki has ruled the Horn of Africa nation with an iron grip from independence in 1993, following an epic 30-year liberation war from neighbouring Ethiopia.
Opposition parties are banned and those who challenge the regime are jailed without trial, often in the harshest of conditions.
After 15 top officials wrote an open letter in 2001 calling for democratic reforms — dubbed the Group of 15, or G-15 — Issaias launched a brutal political purge, jailing 11 and with the others fleeing into exile.
It left Eritrea effectively under the control of army, usually veterans of the decades-long independence war with Ethiopia, with government ministers mostly sidelined from the seat of real power.
Religious minorities are also persecuted in Eritrea, which is officially split equally between Muslims and Christians.
Late last year Eritrea’s information minister Ali Abdu, one of the closest of a narrow elite around Issaias, was reported to have fled the country for exile abroad.
He is believed to have not returned to Eritrea after travelling to Europe in September, with many opposition reports — including one closely connected to his family — claiming he had fled to Canada.
My own information this morning London time – from a source in contact with Asmara
Around 100 members of the Eritrean Defence force and two tanks stormed the ministry of Information head quarters in Forto just outside Asmara and forced their commanders and also the top officials at the ministry into one room and then went on to force the director of Eritrea TV, Asmellash Abraha Woldu to read announcements that:
- they will be freeing all prisoners of conscience
- they will implement the constitution
- that the ministry of information is under their total control
Eritrean TV has been off air since then though our contacts did see the announcement and have confirmed that unusual movements around Forto.