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Ethiopia Says Patience with Eritrea Runs ThinPosted by Sodere on March 22, 2011 at 9:41amView Sodere's blog.Ethiopia’s long held policy of detente towards Eritrea’s alleged transgression and its leaders’ belligerence is possibly shifting to an active pursuit of regime change, according to series of remarks made last week by senior officials of the Ethiopian government.
From Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to his Deputy and Foreign Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and State Minister Brehane G. Kirstos, Ethiopian authorities were on the record last week, warning that their patience with Eritrea is running thin. Eritrean authorities have now devised a policy of “turning Addis Abeba to another Baghdad,” both Meles and Brehane accused during their respective briefings to members of the media last week.
“Our patience with Eritrea is limited when it comes to its efforts to undermine our peace and development to overcome poverty,” said Brehane during a press conference on Wednesday, March 16, 2011.
It was his first debut with the media after he was appointed to his current position. He has served as Ethiopia’s high-profile diplomat since his party assumed political power in 1991, posted in highly sensitive missions such as the United States and Brussels, the latter accredited to the European Union (EU).
He inducted his first public address through the media to send a stern but subtle warning to Eritrea, while strongly urging the international community to “respond to Eritrea’s continued belligerence.”
Ethiopian authorities have, for a decade, followed a policy of detente, in their bid to avoid military confrontation with the regime in Asmara. The Prime Minister has gone on the record several times that changing the government in Asmara is up to the people of Eritrea, and not his country.
However, Brehane’s strongly worded remarks last week that implied change in foreign policy position towards Eritrea was an echo of what Meles said few days earlier, when he spoke to journalists in his office on March 12, 2011.
“It is difficult to think to hold down this force of destruction, only guarding our borders,” Meles said. “There should be an effort to change the regime.”
For observers of foreign policy making on Menelik II Avenue, the change of tone, at least, on Ethiopia’s part was provoked after Eritrea’s government allegedly tried to smuggle terrorists with explosive to undermine the African Union (AU) heads of state summit, back in January 2011.
The Australian government, whose foreign minister was one of the delegates in Addis Abeba during the summit, had issued alerts of terrorist attempts few days before it was opened. After the end of the summit, Ethiopian authorities had shown, on the state TV, suspects and their captured explosives and weapons they alleged were smuggled to disrupt the summit.
Such accusations have always been there since the two countries went to bloody war in late 1990s.
“We have travelled thus far in pinning down this vicious regime doing police and security works,” Meles told reporters last week. “But the threat of the regime is not only to Ethiopia, but also to Djibouti, Somalia and Sudan. The threat could get out of control one day.”
Although the alleged incident during the AU summit appears to be the turning point, the change of strategy towards Eritrea has been afloat for some time now, according to diplomatic sources.
There is a whitepaper produced at the Menelik II Avenue as far back as December 2010 that urged Ethiopian authorities to put pressure on the international community to see to the changes of behaviour among Eritrean leaders. The other option is to seek regime change in Asmara, according to diplomatic sources.
This view was reinforced last week.
“The general [policy] is to put pressure on the Eritrean government to change its policy,” Meles said. “Or else, we ought to facilitate conditions for regime change.”
Nonetheless, neither of the Ethiopian leaders who spoke last week on the issue were clear what they would do in effect to facilitate regime change, according to a long time observer of Ethiopian foreign policy affairs. One immediate option they may have at their disposal is to put pressure on the international community to enforce the sanction the United Nations Security Council has imposed on Eritrea and its leaders.
He sees the international community is rather reluctant to enforce the sanctions. For instance, Yemane G. Meskel, special advisor to President Issayas Afeworki, had travelled to the United States a few weeks ago, despite his inclusion in the list of senior Eritrean government officials banned from international travel, according to sources.
The other area of pressure is to produce evidence to the United Nations Security Council on Eritrea’s continued arms supply to the Al-Shabab in Somalia, one of the reasons that subjected the latter to sanctions, say diplomatic sources.
Matt Bryden, Canadian national and coordinator of the Security Council’s Monitoring Group, was in Addis Abeba a few weeks ago where security authorities made available to him daunting evidences and debriefings from defected Eritrean military officials, reliable sources disclosed to Fortune.
“Ethiopian mission in New York could make good use of these material evidences to advance the immediate and strong enforcement of the sanctions,” said the foreign policy observer.Despite mounting alarms and warnings from Addis Abeba, Eritrean authorities have been quiet about these accusations. Neither was Girma Asmerom, Eritrea’s ambassador accredited to the AU and based in Addis Abeba, willing to comment, despite Fortune’s repeated efforts to solicit his responses.
By TAMRAT G. GIORGISFORTUNE STAFF WRITER