2013 Eritrean Army mutiny

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2013 Eritrean Army mutiny
Date 21 January 2013
Location Asmara, Eritrea
Result Coup d'état attempt failed, demands rejected, Eritrean government victory
Belligerents
Eritrea Eritrean Army rebels

Eritrea Eritrean Government
Eritrea Eritrean Defence Forces

Commanders and leaders
Isaias Afwerki
Ahmed Umer Kakay

The 2013 Eritrean Army mutiny was mounted on 21 January 2013, when around 100-200 soldiers of the Eritrean Army in the capital city, Asmara seized the headquarters of the state broadcaster, EriTV, and allegedly broadcast a message demanding reforms and the release of political prisoners.[1][2] The mutiny was the first major incident of resistance to the rule of Isaias Afewerki since the purging of a group of fifteen ministers who demanded political reform in 2001. Details about the mutiny remain murky, with several (but not all) government officials denying it even took place, while opposition sources claimed it had been an abortive coup attempt.[3]

Background[edit]

Map of Eritrea.

Eritrea has been ruled by Isaias Afewerki since its independence in 1993 from Ethiopia, following a 30-year independence war. Initially allied with Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and his Tigrayan People's Liberation Front, whom Isaias' Eritrean People's Liberation Front had helped overthrow the communist regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam, border disputes caused relations between the two nations to rapidly turn sour, and in May 1998, Ethiopia invaded Eritrea.[4] The resultant conflict killed between 70,000-100,000 on both sides, and left Eritrea with over a third of its territory occupied and over 650,000 people displaced.[5] Although Eritrea was awarded most of the disputed territory by the Permanent Court of Arbitration, Ethiopia, as of 2017, still occupies most of the disputed land.

The war caused a severe curtailment of political freedoms and rights in Eritrea, with the constitution's implementation being delayed indefinitely and most young people being forced into indefinite national service.[6] Presidential and parliamentary elections were postponed and have never been held since independence. The People's Front for Democracy and Justice, nominally a transitional authority, is the sole legal political organisation, making Eritrea Africa's last remaining official one-party state and the only non-communist one-party state in the world (most African nations were at one point single party states, while all its neighbours, Sudan, Ethiopia, and Djibouti have dominant-party systems).[7]

Religious activity has been strictly monitored and suppressed, with evangelicals in particular facing imprisonment and torture.[8] Even the patriarch of the majority Eritrean Orthodox Church, Abune Antonios, was in 2007 forcibly removed and placed under house arrest.[9][10] The level of repression has prompted many to call it "the North Korea of Africa"– but Eritrea, which has no private media, has been ranked last in Reporters Without Borders' Press Freedom Index since 2007, below North Korea.[11]

The mutiny[edit]

Early on January 21, the soldiers surrounded the headquarters of the state broadcaster, EriTV, known as “Forto,” which sits atop a small hill overlooking Asmara.[12] The soldiers stormed the building and gathered all the employees into a room, and forced the director of EriTV, Asmelash Abraha, to read a prepared statement demanding the restoration of the constitution, the release of political prisoners, and the freeing of captured refugees.[12] Only after Asemlash had read two sentences, the feed was cut off and the building surrounded by loyal soldiers, who also took up defensive positions around the presidential palace and airport, with the city remaining mainly calm.[12] The soldiers were purportedly led by Col. Saleh Osman, a hero of the war with Ethiopia.[12]

At 10pm, the broadcast resumed, and the station's employees were released. The soldiers were said to have withdrawn from the headquarters complex.[12]

Reaction[edit]

Iranian-funded Press TV interviewed Tesfa-Michael Gerahtu, Eritrean Ambassador to the United Kingdom, who claimed that the attempt had been fabricated, and that there had been no unrest whatsovever. There is also controversy in the name of the kind of action led by these rebel militaries. The Permanent Representative to the African Union and UNECA, Ambassador Girma Asmerom’s claimed that “As is the case all over the world an armed crazy, stupid and terrorist individual or group can take stupid actions… Such isolated incidents which frequently occur in the West are considered terrorist acts. I don’t understand why in Africa they are considered coup d’états. It is the highest form of double standard and hypocrisy," thus implying there had been unrest.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Eritrea mutiny over, city reported calm". AFP. 21 January 2013. Retrieved 11 October 2013. 
  2. ^ Tekle, Tesfa-Alem (11 February 2013). "Eritrea's president breaks silence over army mutiny incident". Sudan Tribune. Retrieved 11 October 2013. 
  3. ^ Straziuso, Jason (22 January 2013). "A day after unrest reported in Eritrea, calm returns. Ambassador denied coup attempt". AP. Retrieved 11 October 2013. 
  4. ^ "International commission: Eritrea triggered the border war with Ethiopia". BBC News. 2005-12-21. Retrieved 1 September 2016. 
  5. ^ Eritrean, Ethiopian exchange of POWs begins CNN, 23 December 2000
  6. ^ William Davison, Bealfan T. Hayle. "Eritrea Mutiny Shows Growing Military Discontent With Isaias". Bloomberg. Retrieved 11 October 2013. 
  7. ^ Hennig, Rainer Chr. (3 June 2013). "Eritrea "celebrates" 20 years of terror". Afrol News. Retrieved 11 October 2013. 
  8. ^ "Eritrea says not aware of mass arrest of Christians", Reuters, Jeremy Clarke, December 10, 2009, Retrieved June 11, 2011.
  9. ^ "Orthodox patriarch of Eritrea sacked". 1 February 2006. Archived from the original on 29 September 2007. Retrieved 5 February 2007. 
  10. ^ Plaut, Martin (28 June 2007). "Christians protest over Eritrea". BBC News. Retrieved 12 October 2009. 
  11. ^ "Press Freedom Index 2013" Archived 2013-02-15 at the Wayback Machine., Reporters Without Borders, 30 January 2013
  12. ^ a b c d e "What Really Happened at Asmara's Ministry of (Dis)information ?". Reporters without Borders.