An Eritrean exile group has held simultaneous rallies in Addis Ababa and refugee camps in northern Ethiopia demanding the ouster of Eritrea’s government. The demonstrations coincide with Ethiopia’s recent switch to a more hardline approach toward its northern rival.
More than 600 Eritrean refugees met at an Addis Ababa hotel Wednesday, all wearing identical paper visors with the word "Enough" printed on the side. "Enough" of what they repeatedly called the dictatorial regime of Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki.
Organizers said they were in touch by phone with at least five refugee camps in Ethiopia’s Tigray and Afar regions where similar demonstrations were held among the 60,000 strong Eritrean refugee population.
The gatherings are part of a renewed push in Ethiopia to spark an uprising against Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki’s 18-year rule.
Organizer Kibrom Sibhatu says his Eritrean Urban Refugees Association advocates peaceful protests like those that have recently targeted repressive governments in North Africa and the Middle East.
"We are not an armed group, we are simply political refugees, asylum seekers and we had a lesson from our region that it is possible to withstand peacefully in order to [bring] down the current regime in Eritrea," said Sibhatu.
Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a two-year border war from 1998 to 2000 in which 70,000 people died. There has since been an uneasy peace, with both sides massing tens of thousands of troops along the disputed border.
In recent weeks, Ethiopia has stepped up its anti-Eritrean rhetoric, saying it had intercepted would-be terrorists dispatched by Asmara to create havoc in Addis Ababa during an African Union summit. Eritrea has emphatically denied the charge, but Prime Minister Meles Zenawi told journalists last month Ethiopia’s foreign policy has been revised to actively advocate the overthrow of the Asmara government.
There have been reports of armed Eritrean rebel fighters training in camps on the Ethiopian side of the frontier. But Kibrom Sebhatu denied knowledge of military activity among the refugees.
"If Ethiopian government supports us, it only gives us asylum and only allows us to make this rally and this conference. Otherwise we have no idea what you are saying about these military camps in Tigray and Afar," he said.
Kibrom says he plans to continue the "Enough" rallies.
Ironically, "Enough" is also the slogan of a campaign seen on social networking internet sites calling for demonstrations against Ethiopia’s government next month, when Prime Minister Meles celebrates the 20th anniversary of the coup that brought his Tigrayan Marxist guerrilla group to power.