Friday, January 25, 2013

Eritrea Mutiny Shows Growing Military Discontent With Isaias

By William Davison & Bealfan T. Hayle - Jan 25, 2013 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 Ethiopiaended. 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 About a quarter of Eritrea’s 5.4 million population lives overseas and are threatened with having their entry rights withdrawn, their properties seized or families harassed if they don’t pay, according to the United Nations. Building Stormed 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. Illness 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, 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. President Targeted 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. Read the entire article here

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