Eritreans declare autonomy from Addis Ababa

May 30, 1991|By Gilbert A. Lewthwaite | Gilbert A. Lewthwaite,London Bureau of The Sun

LONDON -- Eritrean rebels announced yesterday that they would run their own province without declaring full independence from Ethiopia and promised to allow international aid to the starving to flow through the two major ports they control.

In Addis Ababa, the Tigrean-led Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front began forming a government by clamping a round-the-clock curfew on the city and shooting anti-U.S. demonstrators, killing some and wounding others.

A spokesman for the EPRDF, Alemsegeb Gamlak, confirmed that there had been dead and wounded among those protesting the takeover by the rebel front, but he declined to give figures.

The EPRDF said that only people working for essential services were exempt from the 24-hour curfew on the city of 3 million and that even foreign diplomats were included.

"These regulations are issued to safeguard the security of the city," EPRDF radio said.

"If anybody is found breaking these regulations, we strongly warn we will take all the necessary actions," it said, without saying what those actions were.

Earlier, thousands of angry youths chanting "U.S.A. no" rampaged through the shuttered central market. Hundreds more surrounded the U.S. Embassy.

All flights into Addis Ababa, including relief flights, have been banned by the victorious rebels.

"We are trying to get in touch with the EPRDF commanders or even the guy in charge at the airport to see if we can get a [relief] flight in," said one United Nations official.

The Ethiopian Red Cross has appealed to the city's new rulers to exempt hospital workers from the curfew so they can tend to those wounded in the takeover of the capital.

The demonstrators, waving Ethiopian flags and green branches as a sign of peace, accused the United States of selling out Ethiopia.

Meanwhile, Eritreans said they would run their province's affairs separately from the new power structure emerging in the Ethiopian capital until a U.N.-monitored referendum on independence for the province can be held.

U.S. officials said they were "encouraged" by the move, indicating that a tacit understanding on distinct but cooperating administrations had emerged during this week's Ethiopian peace talks here.

Under the agreement hammered out in London, the EPRDF is to hold a conference on interim power-sharing with the two other major rebel groups before July 1, preparing the ground for democratic elections within a year.

Issais Afwerki, secretary-general of the Eritrean People's Liberation Front, said his group would limit its participation in the conference to discussing cooperation between his administration in the Eritrean capital, Asmara, and the EPRDF-led interim government in Addis Ababa.

Meles Zenawi, leader of the EPRDF, said Tuesday that he supported a referendum on Eritrean independence, a reversal of his previous rejection of the proposal that could split the country.

Herman Cohen, U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs, who chaired the successful London talks that apparently ended 30 years of civil war, said Tuesday that the Bush administration also supported the proposal for a U.N.-supervised referendum in the northern province.

The EPRDF and the smaller Oromo Liberation Front will be left to argue over the shape of the interim government in Addis Ababa. The OLF was opposed to the United States' urging the EPRDF Monday to seize control of the capital.

"We feel we have been left out," complained an OLF spokesman.

All the rebel leaders have been placed on notice that U.S. cooperation and aid will be dependent on introduction of democracy.

"No democracy, no cooperation," the chief U.S. negotiator said Tuesday.

The Eritrean decision to establish a separate provincial administration was simply "formalizing" the local "government" the rebels had been running during 30 years of civil war, Mr. Afwerki said.

"We don't want to hijack our independence or our right to self-determination," the 42-year-old former engineering student said at a news conference here.

However, the demonstrators in Addis Ababa said they feared the breakup of Ethiopia.

Mr. Afwerki and the EPRDF's Mr. Zenawi are to return to their respective capitals as soon as possible.

Mr. Zenawi, 36, has undertaken to impose law and order in the country and to ease the flow of aid to an estimated 7.5 million citizens threatened with starvation, a project in which he is now assured of Eritrean cooperation.

Eritrea lies strategically along Ethiopia's Red Sea coast and is the location of the country's two major ports, Mesewa and Aseb. A rebel broadcast in Eritrea yesterday said the ports would be used "as a corridor for any goods and relief foods" arriving from abroad.

The province is home to about 10 percent of the country's 51 million people.

An Italian colony until the Italians surrendered to the British in 1941 during World War II, Eritrea was administered by the British for 11 years.

In 1952 it was federated with Ethiopia, the original seed of the struggle for secession.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.