Text of interview with Eritrean Foreign Minister Ali Sayyid Abdallah by Musa Idriss entitled "Sanaa Grouping was born by ’caesarean’ - its aims: asphyxiating Eritrea," says Eritrean foreign minister"; published by London-based newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat on 6 January 2004; subheadings inserted editorially
- Ali S. Abdallah
JEDDAH — The Eritrean foreign minister, Ali Sayyid Abdallah, has played down the outcome of the recent tripartite [Ethiopia-Sudan-Yemen] summit which took place in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. He affirmed that his country was not very much concerned with the "Sanaa Grouping", which, he said, was born by "caesarean". In a telephone interview with Al-Sharq al-Awsat from Riyadh, the Eritrean minister indicated: "The spearhead of the mentioned gathering is Ethiopia, which managed to lure Sudan and obtain its support in the current conflict between Khartoum and Eritrea. At the same time, Yemen has taken part in this plot, despite its historical relations with Eritrea."
Abdallah visited Riyadh within the framework of a Gulf tour aimed at explaining his country’s position towards the current border conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia, especially with regard to the issue of implementing the provisions devised by the International Arbitration Commission. He said that "the recent tripartite meeting hosted by Addis Ababa is clear evidence of the conspiracy that is taking place against Eritrea".
Nevertheless he stressed, "we believe that the era of alliances and axes is over, as it has been taken over by history." He added, "we are not very much annoyed with such moves although their objectives are known, which are asphyxiating our country and isolating it from its environment."
Here is the full interview:
Alliance aims to "asphyxiate" Eritrea
[Musa Idriss] How do you respond to the accusations that you are a source of "anxieties" and instability in the region, accusations levelled against you by the Ethiopian prime minister, the Sudanese president and the Yemeni president at the end of the tripartite summit in Addis Ababa?
[Ali Sayyid Abdallah] There are different and contradictory views regarding this issue. On one hand, we hear that Eritrea is the cause for the anxieties and other things the region is going through. It is neither true nor responsible to say such a thing. To the contrary, Eritrea contributes and works towards the stability of the region. On the other hand, we hear that it is possible for us to join the mentioned gathering if we abide by the conditions set up by the grouping. As a matter of fact, we consider that this alliance has been established in accordance with the statements made by Sudanese and Ethiopian officials in order to confront Eritrea, and asphyxiate it politically, economically and in terms of security. At the same time, Yemen said that this alliance was working towards the development and the stability of the region. We also heard [Yemeni] President Ali Abdallah’s statement indicating that Eritrea was invited to join the grouping without any condition, while others were talking about conditions. This is where the extent of the contradiction appears. We are not in the process of joining any alliance or coalition at this time or in these current circumstances. On the contrary, we will endeavour to restore security and stability in the region, generally speaking. We will also deal, in a full and global manner, with every neighbouring country in general.
Eritrea will not join the "Sanaa Grouping"
[Musa Idriss] Will you join the tripartite gathering if you are officially invited, bearing in mind that the statement has mentioned the possibility of Eritrea joining the gathering, if it abides by its conditions?
[Ali Sayyid Abdallah] We categorically reject the idea of joining this gathering.
[Musa Idriss] Why and what is the obstacle against such a membership?
[Ali Sayyid Abdallah] The obstacle is the fact that this alliance has been originally established in accordance with the official declaration that emanated from the first meeting that took place in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa. Such a declaration was read by the Sudanese foreign minister who stated that "the creation of the mentioned gathering represents a strong message that we would like to send out from here to Eritrea specifically". This is why it is difficult to be asked today to join an alliance that has been created and institutionalized with a specific objective, which is to wage a war on our country and undermine it. Besides, our admission to this alliance means that we would be working alongside those who are declaring a war against us and attempting to asphyxiate us. In other words, we would be at war against ourselves. Such a thing cannot happen at all.
Grouping said sponsoring Eritrean opposition movements
[Musa Idriss] To what extent your country has been or will be affected by the isolation that has been imposed upon it by the other countries?
[Ali Sayyid Abdallah] We have not been affected at all by such a move. They attempted to put pressure on us since the creation of this alleged alliance a year-and-a-half ago. They did so through the allocation of a special budget aimed at mobilizing some mercenary "groups", which are in fact "opposition movements". They tried to gather them from here and there, from Europe, Sudan and the rest of the world, with the aim of bringing them to Ethiopia in order to carry out some subversive and terrorist acts in Eritrea. But in fact, they did not achieve anything worthy of being mentioned so far. As a matter of fact, there is an Eritrean harmony and unity in order to confront such a conspiracy. This is because the starting point of these individuals is inside the Sudanese territory. They try to carry out subversive actions, but thank God, we managed to contain their action and their movements, since they are originally terrorist elements that are dealing with the current regime in Addis Ababa, which declared war on the Eritrean government and people.
[Musa Idriss] Do you have any intention of opening a dialogue or sitting with those you mentioned, in a bid to understand their ideas and orientation?
[Ali Sayyid Abdallah] Why not? If there are some patriots among them, we will be fully ready to sit down with them, bearing in mind that Eritrea is open to all patriots and to all opposing ideologies. But if the question is about collaborators holding their meeting in Addis Ababa and receiving their instructions from Ethiopian officials, then we categorically reject any dialogue with them.
[Musa Idriss] In this case, there is a question persistently asked: who is the collaborator and who is the patriot? How do you distinguish or assess the two categories?
[Ali Sayyid Abdallah] I believe that anyone who deals with the Addis Ababa government and receives instructions and directives from it, including the carrying out of terrorist acts in Eritrea, is a collaborator and a traitor. Therefore, we cannot deal with him.
[Musa Idriss] But we can notice in Sudan that there are many factions at war with the regime, and yet the negotiations and the reconciliation process did not stop. Besides, no party accuses the other one of being a traitor. Why can’t we see as well a national dialogue in Eritrea, bearing in mind that such a move towards a dialogue has become a general trend in many parts of the world?
[Ali Sayyid Abdallah] There is no comparison between events in Eritrea and those happening in Sudan. We have to take into account the fact that in Sudan there are known political parties, with a long history and roots. Sometimes, they get involved in power, some other times they choose to stay out of it. Therefore, the Sudanese regime deals with this issue accordingly. But when it comes to Eritrea, it is rather unfortunate that this country is accused by Sudan of supporting the opposing factions. In fact, it is the other way around. Eritrea is working towards finding an inter-Sudanese solution. It has indeed contributed to this objective. The Sudanese government and the Sudanese political movements know about it. As for the Eritrean elements you are talking about, they sold themselves to the Ethiopian enemy who is attempting to bring back Eritrea to the Ethiopian hegemony, and to re-impose colonialism on our country. Unfortunately, this tendency exists within the Ethiopian foreign policy.
Relations with the USA
[Musa Idriss] From your point of view, to what extent Washington supports the "Sanaa Grouping"? Did the United States rule out Eritrea from the alliance Washington is leading in its efforts to eliminate terrorism?
[Ali Sayyid Abdallah] The position of the United States vis-a- vis the decision of the International Arbitration Commission is clear and constant. According to Washington, this decision is an international, binding, and final one; therefore, Ethiopia has to implement its provisions. This is the official position. Regarding the other point of view, which states that Ethiopia has become the main partner in the fight against terrorism, I believe that this kind of talk may be existent within the media, but to the best of our knowledge, when it come to the war on terrorism, the United States deals with all countries that are fully ready to be involved in such a war. Eritrea has indeed faced terrorism before 9/11. It originated from Sudan, through individuals who were based in this country. These individuals had been trained in camps belonging to Usamah Bin-Ladin when he used to live in Sudan, until 1996. There were some special camps. We have indeed defined these camps and the individuals who used to be trained there. We have submitted to the United States and other countries documents and evidence supporting these facts. Our position is that terrorism is not aimed at a particular state, but it is targeting all societies. Therefore, it is essential for the international community to fight it by all means.
[Musa Idriss] What is the objective of your current tour to the region?
[Ali Sayyid Abdallah] My current Gulf tour has to do with bilateral relations, first. At the same time, the aim is to explain our point of view regarding the border drawing with Ethiopia, and the results reached so far. The aim is also to draw a link between the decision of the International Arbitration Commission and its outcome in terms of tension in the region. We believe that the international community has to adopt the same stand with regards to the implementation of this decision, which a binding and final one, bearing in mind that such a decision would ineluctably have an impact on all the countries of the region if a negative development occurred, which could lead to anarchy and anxieties in the region.
Relations with Sudan
[Musa Idriss] At the end of the latest tripartite summit, Sudanese President Gen Umar al-Bashir clearly accused Eritrea of supporting the rebels in Darfur, in their conflict with Khartoum. How do you respond to that?
[Ali Sayyid Abdallah] We have been used to this kind of statements and rumours from Sudanese officials on all levels. In fact, they are trying, for some reasons they know, to put the blame on Eritrea for any issue or problem that arises in their country. Regarding our support to the rebels in Darfur, it is to be said that any person who looks at the map realizes without any doubt, that such a support is impossible. The accusations we hear about our alleged support to the rebels and the fact that we support them and treat their injured and wounded in our hospitals, [all these accusations] are absolutely baseless. We have no ambition that could lead to a bundle of problems in the region. On the contrary, we will endeavour to establish security and stability in this region. This is because such actions are in the interest of our people.
[Musa Idriss] Your accusations are levelled at Dr Mustafa Uthman Isma’il, the Sudanese foreign minister, more than any other Sudanese official. Is it due to a personal conflict from your part towards Dr Mustafa, or are there any other reasons?
[Ali Sayyid Abdallah] In fact, I would not like to stoop to the level of Dr Mustafa Isma’il in terms of his continuous statements. I believe that Dr Mustafa has unfortunately become a loudspeaker for the Ethiopian policy. He is now speaking on behalf of the Ethiopians. At the same time, Ethiopia is refusing to implement a binding and final decision taken by the International Arbitration Commission. In the light of this situation, we are calling on the international community to adopt a unified stand with regards to the practical implementation of this decision, bearing in mind that the border conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia has ended with the decision of the International Arbitration Commission. What is needed now is to put demarcations on the land and draw the borders. But Ethiopia is rejecting such a decision, as it is asking for a new mechanism. Such demands have been dealt with by the international community. However, there are those who support the Ethiopian aggressive stand despite Addis Ababa’s opposition to the implementation of the international law. This is why I believe that such a position is strange, to some extent.
BBC Monitoring Africa