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Eritrean colonel causes havoc among Ethiopian opposition

The government of Eritrea needs to act promptly to stop its rogue mid-ranking officers who are causing havoc among Ethiopian opposition groups if it is genuine about building a strong relationship with Ethiopians. The following information is intended for such purpose, since private communications have been left unanswered so far.

It was with shock and disbelief that a few days ago we learned about the disappearance of Col. Tadesse Muluneh, one of the founders of Ethiopian People’s Patriotic Front (EPPF). We have requested Eritrean officials for an explanation. It’s now been over 2 weeks and we have not received any official response so far. Ethiopian Review sources in Eritrea, however, have informed us that it is not just Tadesse who is arrested. Several individuals in EPPF’s central committee have been rounded up in the past few months.

The arrests have been orchestrated by Eritrean adviser to Ethiopian opposition groups named Col. Fitsum, according to our sources.

This week we have also learned that current EPPF chairman Meazaw Getu’s movement has been restricted and his vehicle has been taken away by the same colonel.

During the past few months, at least two central committee members have been killed and several have fled. Hundreds of fighters have also left their units.

After rounding up Col. Tadesse and others, last week Col. Fitsum convened an EPPF meeting and forced the leadership to summarily remove several individuals, including six in the Diaspora, from the central committee for opposing his illegal actions. He then appointed a hotel-owner in Philadelphia named Tilahun Gelaw as head of EPPF in the Diaspora over the objection of the chairman, Meazaw Getu, and several central committee members.

EPPF is not the only group that is currently facing problems in Eritrea. We have also learned that hundreds of OLF fighters under Gen. Kemal Gelchu who are stationed in Eritrea have been immobilized. Gen. Kemal is currently placed under a virtual house arrest.

Col. Fitsum has also arranged some individuals to kidnap and beat up Ginbot 7 Secretary General Andargachew Tsige when he visited Eritrea a few months ago. To cover his track, Fitsum sent the attackers to Ethiopia where Woyanne shot them dead as soon as they arrived.

The turn of events in Eritrea regarding Ethiopian opposition groups is deeply worrisome to those of us who have been promoting cooperation with Eritrean government. Strong opposition figures are currently being silenced and in their place those who act and behave like puppets are being hand picked and installed as leaders by Col. Fitsum and other mid-ranking Eritrean military and intelligence officers.

We believe that all this is the work of rogue elements in the Eritrean military who might be secretly working to re-establish relations with the Woyanne regime in Ethiopia without the knowledge of the president. We believe that these Eritrean officers are purposefully undermining Isaias Afwerki’s agenda to build good relationship with Ethiopians based on mutual interest.

One of the tactics Col. Fitsum uses to keep Ethiopian groups weak and their members at each others’ throat is to identify corrupt individuals (some who are suspected of being Woyanne agents) and promote them while undermining and planting disinformation against those who are thought to be strong and free of corruption. That is what he has been doing against Col. Tadesse, who is in good terms with almost every one in EPPF, including the current chairman EPPF, Meazaw Getu. As a matter of fact, Meazaw has repeatedly expressed his wish for Tadesse to return to the EPPF leadership. It was Fitsum who chased away Tadesse from EPPF at the barrel of a gun. Fitsum turns around and informs his superiors that he is keeping Tadesse away from EPPF because the rank-and-file members will mutiny if he comes back.

Some question whether individuals like Col. Fitsum are acting on their own, or their actions are sanctioned by higher-ups. We will find out the truth in due course.

Our suspicion regarding the likes of Col. Fitsum has been strengthen by the recently leaked U.S. diplomatic dispatches from the American embassy in Asmara that has been released by Wikileaks.

In one of the diplomatic cables, the U.S. ambassador indicates that some military officers are working to bring down Isaias Afwerki. Could sabotaging the activities of Ethiopian opposition groups who are friendly with the Eritrean government by the likes of Col. Fitsum be part of a campaign of sabotage to undermine President Isaias? We could be wrong, but for now that is our assumption based on what we know so far.

If we look at EPPF, for example, every movement by EPPF units in the past year has been leaked to Woyanne forces in advance. As soon as the units make a move, Woyanne forces, along with ETV crew, capture them. Despite repeated warnings, the EPPF fighters are given mobile phones, which makes it easy for Woyanne to track them down.

At the Feb. 2010 EPPF general assembly a serious effort was made to revamp its leadership and establish an inquiry committee that would investigate allegations of corruption that has plagued the organization. The plan included bringing strong individuals such as Col. Tadesse to the central committee. All the efforts were blocked by Fitsum.

There were also credible reports that EPPF has been infiltrated by Woyanne with the full knowledge and collaboration of Col. Fitsum.

One of these infiltrators is Tilahun Gelaw who has given tens of thousands of dollars in cash and several mobile phones to Col. Fitsum during the past several months. Col. Fitsum has kept most of the money for himself and distributed the mobile phones to the EPPF fighters.

The above cases are just a few of the acts of sabotage against the EPPF and other Ethiopian opposition groups who are provided shelter in Eritrea.

The arrest of Col. Tadesse and several other Ethiopians is a reckless act as far as the Ethiopia-Eritrea relationship is concerned. Does the Isaias government want a genuine relationship with Ethiopians, or a master-puppet relationship?

If the answer is the former, to mend the situation, President Isaias can do the following promptly:

1. Order the release of Col. Tadesse and all other Ethiopian patriots.
2. Remove Col. Fitsum from his position as an adviser to Ethiopian opposition groups. There are many other Eritreans who can do the job in a constructive way.
3. Appoint an inquiry panel that investigates the alleged sabotages by Col. Fitsum and others against Ethiopian groups.

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