May 11, 2007 (DUBAI) — Eritrean President Isayas Afewerki denied the existence of opposition forces in the country. He further said that all foreign plans to create a political opposition were foiled.
- Isayas Afewerki
President Afewerki, in an interview with Al-Arabiya satellite TV, said that the Eritrean people are united and they know where their interests lie. He described the opposition as a puppet of foreign forces trying to destabilise the country.
On the political pluralism, he said that Eritrea is a small and young country, adding that the real democracy requires the participation of the citizens in the decision making process through certain means.
“There is a conflict between the way we understand democracy and pluralism and the way others understand them. We cannot depend on foreign ideas that are not in our interest." Eritrean President said.
In this long interview, he also spoke about Ethiopia and the US which are defined as hostile forces to Eritrea. He also repeated his call for a Somali solution to the current crisis in Somali.
Below the interview with the Eritrean President Isayas Afewerki aired on Thursday May 10, 2007 by Al-Arabiya satellite TV.
Asked about Eritrea’s relations with the United States, Afewerki says the main reason for the "lukewarm" relations between Eritrea and the United States is the latter’s "objection" to the implementation of the Eritrean-Ethiopian border agreement reached in 2002. Asked why the United States would object to the implementation of the agreement reached with Ethiopia, he says the United States has its own strategy in Africa. Responding to another question, he denies that the United States has asked for military bases in Eritrea.
BORDER DISPUTE WITH ETHIOPIA
On whether war is now inevitable between Eritrea and Ethiopia, he says: "On the contrary, why should war break out between Eritrea and Ethiopia if the border issue has been legally resolved? There is a UN resolution and a court decision on this issue. Agreements were also signed. How can any side justify the war? We in Eritrea see no reason for the eruption of war between Eritrea and Ethiopia."
Asked what the Ethiopians want from Eritrea, Afewerki says: "Nothing, there is a weak government which does not represent the majority of people in Ethiopia. This government represents no more than 5 per cent of the Ethiopian society. It came to power under certain circumstances. It does not include basic parties of the Ethiopian society." He adds: "This government believes that depending on a big power will enable it to rule. Even the regional problems raised every now and then are caused by this government’s belief that it can export its problems to other countries by depending on a big power."
Upon being told that the UN secretary general has recently said the United Nations may abandon its efforts to resolve the Eritrean-Ethiopian conflict in November and asked what he expects afterward, especially since "the two sides are massing troops on the border and are involved in a media campaign," Afewerki says: "On the contrary, Ban Ki-moon cannot abandon this legal commitment." He adds that the agreement signed in Algiers binds all, indicating that he "cannot believe that Ban Ki-moon said such a thing." Responding to another question, Afewerki asks "why is all this procrastination by the Security Council and the United Nations in fulfilling their commitment to implement the agreement and the court decision which was binding and final?"
The interviewer then tells him that US Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer accused Eritrea of trying to destabilize Somalia, and asked why Eritrea supports the Somali Islamic Courts. Responding, Afewerki says: "Who forced hundreds of thousands of Somalis to seek refuge in Eritrea? A UN report issued a few days ago said the situation in Somalia is the worst disaster in the African continent." He adds: "Before the courts pulled out of Mogadishu, the United Nations issued reports saying Mogadishu enjoyed stability unparalleled in the history of Somalia over the past 15 years. How can we justify the current situation in Somalia and how can one point a finger of accusation at Eritrea?"
Responding to another question on Eritrea’s "support" for the Islamic Courts, Afewerki says: "We do not side with one party against another in Somalia. Our policy has always called for leaving the Somalis alone to solve their problems. The exaggerated reports on tribal problems in Somalia are baseless. The reason behind the problem in Somalia is foreign interference as proven by recent events. The Somalis should be left alone. There are claims that Eritrea supports the courts and not the other parties. We are certainly with the Somali people whose choices should be respected. Somali problems cannot be solved by supporting one party against another. If the Somalis are left alone, they will certainly solve their problems, but what we see is interference and invasion."
With regard to Eritrea’s "support" for the Somali opposition parties, Afewerki says: "The courts are part of the political forces in Somalia although they do not represent all in Somalia." He adds: "All Somali political forces, including the courts, the transitional government, and other forces, should be given a chance to solve their problem."
Asked if political pluralism is needed so that the situation in Somalia can be stabilized, Afewerki says: "In view of the current circumstances and past experience, it is too early to have political pluralism in Somalia." He adds that the country should be rebuilt but this requires the participation of all Somali entities in this effort.
On his recent visit to Sudan and the reason behind "the restoration of warm relations" between the two countries, Afewerki says: "Our relations with Sudan are strategic and cannot be imposed or changed by the political circumstances or events. Our relations are historical and date back to the era of struggle. Relations after independence were good, but due to some political and ideological reasons these relations stumbled but later returned to normal. These relations are now growing and taking the form of strong bilateral relations and joint work to find solutions to even the problems of the region."
Asked if Eritrea is strengthening its relations with Sudan to win its support if a US-backed Ethiopian military action is taken against Eritrea, Afewerki says: "These are baseless speculations and analyses. We do not need Sudan or any other country to defend us. History proves this. We do not need alliances or axes to defend our interests." Responding to another question on this subject, he says: "We can defend our interests without counting on a big power, a neighbouring country, an ally, or an axis. If we have to defend our national interests, we will certainly do so without having to strike alliances with others outside Eritrea."
The interviewer then asks him the following question: "The Ethiopians are now sheltering the Eritrean opposition and you have relations with the Ethiopian opposition. Has each side started to use the opposition card to defeat the other side?" Responding, Afewerki says: "The one who does not put his house in order from within cannot depend on an outside side to solve his problems. We do not speak for the Ethiopian opposition. As I said, the Ethiopian government does not represent anyone as proven by the recent elections in Ethiopia. The majority of the Ethiopian people are not represented in this government. Therefore, the opposition is automatically there and there is no need to manipulate it from outside." He adds: "We view this as an internal Ethiopian affair and any political position we adopt will be based on the situation on the ground there."
When told that there is Ethiopian-US coordination and Washington "seems to have started to court Eritrean opposition figures," Afewerki says there is no Eritrean opposition, adding that attempts were made "to create a political opposition force in Eritrea, but all attempts failed and all foreign plans were foiled because the Eritrean people are united and they know where their interests lie." He adds that the Eritrean people suffered bitterly from foreign interference in the past but there is currently no such interference by the United States or other countries.
On whether Eritrea will allow political pluralism in the country, Afewerki says: "Eritrea is a small and young country. Let us see how successful such an experience is in old countries and governments applying it. We believe that this pattern will split societies in an ethnic and sectarian manner in order to weaken these countries under the cover of democracy. Real democracy means participation by the majority of citizens in any country or society through certain means and under certain conditions according to stages." He then says: "We do not need to go to a kindergarten and begin to learn politics and be students of Blair or Bush in matters related to democracy. We know politics and know how to build a society and a nation through the participation of most citizens. There is a conflict between the way we understand democracy and pluralism and the way others understand them. We cannot depend on foreign ideas that are not in our interest."
Asked if presidential elections will be held in Eritrea, Afewerki says: "The political process in Eritrea is moving in the right direction and it does not need foreign interferences. Past interferences led to obstacles as noted in eight years of foreign interference which obstructed the political process in Eritrea. That was a temporary obstruction. The more these obstacles are removed, the faster the political process will move in the right direction without foreign interference and without the adoption of the methods used by this or that side."
When told that human rights organizations accuse the Eritrean government of imprisoning a number of ministers, and asked about the fate of these ministers, Afewerki says: "This is the outcome of foreign interference. We wanted to be left alone. If certain countries come to buy the conscience of people and use it in serving their purposes, we in Eritrea will certainly defend the interests and accomplishments of our people. The steps taken were purely security ones." Asked if they will be tried, he says: "We are not talking about a Guantanamo; we have our methods and options in dealing with our internal affairs and our security and in defending our national interests. These interests require us to deal with circumstances and developments and with the concerned persons in accordance with the local laws and norms."
RELATIONS WITH ARAB COUNTRIES
On Eritrea’s relations with the Arab countries, Afewerki says: "Our relations with all Arab countries are good and realistic. They are based on our strategic understanding of geography, politics, events, and developments. We cannot have other options. We will not join axes or adopt political positions that do not concern us." He adds that Eritrea’s relations with the Arab countries "are moving in the right direction."
Asked if he is ready to accept Saudi mediation between Eritrea and Ethiopia to solve "the conflict" between the two countries, Afewerki says: "There is no conflict between us and Ethiopia. There are falsehoods and exaggeration of this issue. I have earlier said that the border issue has been legally settled. Therefore, there is no problem at all between us and Ethiopia. What will mediation be for?"