The War of 1998 to 2000: Stultification for Political and Diplomatic Posturing

The war of 1998 t0 2000 between Eritrean and Ethiopia was unique. It was fought across international border and most of the battles took pace not on the said “disputed area” . It is found to be still indefinable. No such sort of indefinable war is observed or recorded in Africa. In Part I one of the key questions, i.e., Which is the aggressor?, was explicitly elaborated. The attempt has been made based on legal definitions of the UNGA Resolution [an extract of the resolution was presented in V/007/2012], the UN Charter and based on evidences. At the international level, the ruling of the Claim Commission stated that Eritrea “violated international law during its military operations in May 1998”. In effect Eriteria was identified as the one which “started the war” [see]. In addition to this, one can raise a very crucial question. Was the war launched by the PFDJ troops “just” (if one wants to use the old terminology) or was it “a legitimate use of force”? The answer is a big No.

The main reason, why PFDJ’s Eritrea became the first to pull the trigger, is still unanswered. PFDJ’s totalitarian dictator, Isaias Afeworki, against the decisions of his own Executive Committee, CC, and National Assembly; underwent a sort of “palace coup” and incarcerated his own officials. None of them are seen or heard since they were press-ganged by Isaias’ personal security since September 18 to October 2001. His objective was to block an investigation. His then Defense Minister, General Mesfin Hagos, zipped his mouth although he is “one of the culprits”.

Lt/Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam took a  swift measure on February 3/1977 to liquidate those who challenged him. His action was not acceptable by a number of his own committee. After 23 years Isaias Afeworki Abrahamdid the same thing to eliminate all his comrade-in-arms who challenged his leadership; his war policy; etc. Lt/Col. Mengistu, in 1990 imposed on eliminating "TPLF and EPLF" before talking about democracy. Similarly, Isaias , in April 2002 imposed on consolidating his power before he considers the economic problem of Eritrea, not to mention the questions of rule of law, constitutionalism, democracy, freedoms and rights; etc which hs officially described as non-existent in this world [for verification see AC, April 5/2002, 43(7) at 6 -7]. Which of them is better?

In part I, the first half of the war theater was considered with no detailed analysis. The battles from May 6/1998 to June 6/1998 did not reflect the barbarity of the war. After June 6/1998, a total of 9 months passed with no significant battle taking pace. This duration of time was dominated by endeavors to resolve the conflict peaceful whereas the two parties, in secret, were organizing their own defense forces and arming themselves legally or illegally.

Peace making efforts were started in good faith armed with optimism. The USA-Rwanda joint delegation drafted unbiased and straightforward proposals. Their proposals were of high quality in view of international peace making attempts. They were equally favorable to save face, more so to the PFDJ then FDRE. Their proposal passed the first complex behavioral machination and got favorable response from FDRE. But, it was rejected by Isaias Afeworki who gave no valid and tangible reason to do what he did. Hence, the first attempt failed because it was accepted only by Ethiopia.

Its failure is attributed to the arrogant muscle f lexer- Isaias. The balance sheet indicated that not FDRE’s Commander-In-Chief, and his nation, but Isaias Afeworki lost a golden opportunity,  just as the time the sun started rising with peace in its rays and started heralding promising results. Isaias lost that opportunity to save face and to avoid an invisibly  fermenting and non-weathering humiliation the moment he rejected their proposal and mediation.

By then, no one was out of the sudden shock befallen and no one was 100% sure about the real cause of the war, if after all there were a real cause. As the cause of the war was ambiguous, Isaias' rejection of the USA-Rwanda delegation's proposal and his breaking peace talks was ambiguous. He had no palatable reason and has none even now.

Peace making, to my understanding, needs (a0 to identify the real causes of the conflict; and (b) to get the trust of the conflicting parties. In our case both these vital conditions were lacking, especially from the side of PFDJ. The political atmosphere, then was polluted with allegations and counter-allegations by third parties. These made the peace making process difficult and tortuous. Again, the second attempt, the OAU-USA proposal which made the basic foundation of its draft on the previous one got negative reception from Isaias Afeworki.

Apparently, no one asked "WHY IS ISAIAS CREATING ALL THESE PROBLEMS?" And no one attempted to make in-depth investigation on the behavior of EPLF and its leadership. The right answer to this problem is still deeply buried in the three decades of closed conspiratorial life of EPLF/PFDJ. Consider an in-depth analysis of EPLF's emergence starting the early 1970s; EPLF's peace talk behaviors with the Derg, including the 1977to 1978; 1982 to 1985; 1989 t0 1990 (Atlanta, Kenya); 1991 in London; 1991 in Addis Ababa Peace Conference; EPLF's flirting with Free Ethiopian Soldiers Movement (FESM) from 1986 to 1991; EPLF's direct involvement in the anti-Mengistu coup of 1989; EPLF's peace making and breaking with ELF and within EPLF leadership; with OLF; with TPLF; with NDA; etc. These deserve strict investigation or examination , analysis and evaluation.

Isanas Afeworki was hailed "an Eritrean hero"; "a glue of Eritrean territory and nationhood"; "the best guerrilla leader"; "the best military strategist"; "the symbol of unity"; etc. by the American citizens but Eritrean nationals Asgede, Haile, Sofia, and Co. as well as Isaias' "coca cola generation in Europe and America". Such historical depiction is found to be a mirror image of the history written about Emperor Haile Selassie by Amharic historians of Europe, America and Ethiopia. Is their eulogy and gratification to be considered of value?

The first set of battles had no remarkable element to manifest his qualification as a military strategist. Isaias deployed massive force against the unprepared and relatively few troops of FDRE. June 6/1998 marked the first symptom of barbarity and how far serious the Ethiopians were considering Isaias' misdemeanor. Former President Clinton's moratorium which urged both sides to stop aerial attack saved Eritreans than Ethiopians for about a year.

The battles from February 6/1999 to May 2000 demonstrated the superiority of Ethiopian war front commanders and the petrification of PFDJ's system in Eritrea.

Isaias' military calculus was disproved in  every dimension after February 6/1999, save Tserona's battle in which his troops did their best to block Ethiopian advancement.

February 26/1999 was the first bad day for Isaias. His backbone cracked at Bademe when the sun was made "to set down by Ethiopian troops". That phenomena, was shocking to a lot of common natives who had unwarranted trust in Isaias' military leadership. Many questions started echoing from one corner to another on both side of the artificial fence. By implication the heroism of EPLF/PFDJ and its military expertise fell under question mark. Not well trained National Service conscripts (especially of round 8) were used as shields to protect the lives of veteran EPLF troops. The top leadership ran back to Asmara . The reality demonstrated that:-

  1. Isaias' perception in regard to the attitudes of the Ethiopian peoples; political parties and their aspirations was disproved by events and phenomena. Despite this reality on the ground some confused and confusers from outside the mainland went on propagating unqualified support .
  2. His attempt to build Eriterian nationalism based on anti-Tigrayan propaganda, which was widely circulated by carefully managed tactics of PFDJ's cadres, went on being eroded. after February 1999 to May 2000 only a few disgruntled and opportunist groups, most of which are outside the mainland, stuck to this racist propaganda.

It is difficult to deny that the reality observed on the ground, especially after the Ethiopians started sophisticated and well coordinated military offensive have demonstrated the vacuity of his being an impeccable EPLF/PFDJ's military strategist.

His failure of commanding the military theater and/or leadership was proved not only once, but continuously up to May 2000. He irresponsibly opened the Pandora's Box, but failed to close it., even now. Isaias' massive surprise attack to retake Bademe (as the 3rd attempt within 3 months) was sub-commanded by 6 Generals. The offensive to retake Bademe continued for 6 days. Two PFDJ corps and the most valued Commando division were devastated. Loss of human life was estimated to have been not less than 30,000 [AC, November 9/1999, 40(22) at 2].

Isaias and his generals were expected to know that the objective of fighting a war in general, is either to win the war or to limit or contain the enemy force. In their last and exceptionally massive offensive from June 18/1999 to June 23/1999, Isaias and his generals failed to meet both conditions. His military cadres, many of whom are found to be unfit in theory or practice, led National service recruits to be slaughtered in mass.Isaias took another humiliating beating and called the office of OAU/AU to declare that he accepts the Modalities Agreement. It is rather a shame for him to start a battle and to fail to win or to contain it. The force which made the war to stop, which was started by Isaias himself,  was a third party. That became the end of Isaias' military adventure. A year after the Ethiopians took control of Bademe, Isaias submitted to the call made months back. He was forced to lick what he spitted.

What lessons should the young generation get from these experiences?

What must it do to reveres the uncontrollable outflow of the youth?

The barbaric image of the second and final round of massive offensive of Ethiopian troops is not yet reviewed, herein.

However, as we have to remember all those who lost their precious lives we have also to remember those victimized by their own organization and comrade-in-arms while they were struggling for internal democratic culture and were defending just causes.

Asmara Digest

Kiflemariam Melake Negassi,
P. O. Box 72522, Clock Tower,
Kampala, Uganda.

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