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Eritrea: Excerpts from M. Hagos' radio address to people- war?

Aug 23, 2004 - The Eritrean opposition leader, Mesfin Hagos, who is also a former defence minister of the country, has said Ethiopia is making preparations for war with Eritrea over the border dispute and is only awaiting a conducive political atmosphere for war. Addressing the Eritrean people on the current situation in the country, Mesfin also accused the Eritrean government of mobilizing citizens as old as 60 years of age. The following is an excerpt from the speech broadcast by Eritrean opposition audio web site in Tigrigna on 22 August

What prompted me to pass this message to the Eritrean people is because heavy clouds of chaos and devastation are hovering over our country. Various sources, from inside and outside Ethiopia, indicate that the Ethiopian government is making all the necessary preparations for war. What remains is a conducive political atmosphere for war.

Though the Eritrean government could not buy all the required weaponry because of economic constraints, it is mobilizing Eritreans, even people as old as 60 years of age. In short, a situation that threatens the very existence of our country is being hatched.

Dear Eritrean people, we defeated an external force that deprived us of our rights and dignity. We preferred martyrdom to living under the yoke of others. We struggled tenaciously to make Eritrea for Eritreans because independence is more important than life. Because we fought in unison, we won unparalleled victory that satisfied our aspirations. Despite obstacles, the road after independence was promising and we moved on patiently. We hoped, by learning from our mistakes, to map out advanced political and economic strategies; to set up advanced and efficient governance. Most importantly, we had expectations to introduce a law that would equally govern all of us. To this end, a national constitution was drafted and adopted. Implementation of the constitution alone will not bring about a speedy solution to our problems, but it can pave the way for the establishment of a progressive regime. We are now faced with a historical obstacle at a time when we have been pushing for the implementation of the constitution since 2000.

Dear our people, experience tells us that the Eritrean government has not lived up to the expectations of the Eritrean people. Instead of moving forward, we are moving backward because the government is galloping without restraint by alienating itself from the people and the world. Consequently, our country has been exposed to reoccupation. Though there are many factors which caused us to be in such situations, let me mention some which I think are important.

In spite of being settled by an international boundary commission, we are, once again, in a game over the border dispute with Ethiopia because of Ethiopia's rejection of the verdict [by the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission]. Even though we have reservations in the verdict, we are calling for its implementation because we have to respect the agreement reached between the two governments. Such a position and decision should have improved Eritrea's image before the international community. We should have also gained sympathy from the international community. The Ethiopian government should not only be accused of rejecting an agreement it signed to abide by and for taking contradictory positions from time to time, but it should have also been condemned and compelled to accept and implement the ruling. Sadly, the position taken by the international community is the opposite - sympathy has inclined to Ethiopia, and Eritrea, despite accepting the ruling, has become the accused. Why?

Various answers are given to this question at meetings abroad with politicians, [representatives of] various governments and international organizations. The answers can be summarized in one sentence. They say it is because Eritrea does not have an effective representative. They say instead of advocating its case appropriately, the Eritrean government stifles the appetite for talks through its unacceptable approach, thus creating antagonists. This causes confusion with the characteristics of an individual rather than focusing on the main issue.

During the meeting with the UN secretary-general last month, the leader of the Eritrean government caused further diplomatic loss. Unnecessary affront and threat and the urge to be heard but not to listen to others has further damaged our case. Though shuttling between Eritrea and Ethiopia by the UN secretary-general's special envoy, [Lloyd] Axworthy, would bear no fruit as a ruling has already been given and the problem can only be solved by its implementation, refusing to meet him was, however, undiplomatic. There is no decision Axworthy would put down the throat of the Eritrean government. On the contrary, accepting to meet him and, once again, reaffirming your position to the world would have been a gain but not a loss. I brought this as an example, but I do not mean this alone caused a major diplomatic damage. [Passage omitted]