A small country with big ambitions, Eritrea has become the headquarters of opponents from all over the Horn of Africa. Asmara uses them against Ethiopia or as bargaining counters to make its presence felt on the regional diplomatic scene. But its aid is not without obligations, as many of its “guests” have found out to their cost.
Full steam ahead for Ethiopia. While Eritrea is subsidising the Islamist leaders of the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia (ARS), founded in Asmara in September, it is putting the overwhelming bulk of its support into backing Ethiopian rebels. Some leaders of these Ethiopian rebel groups have lived for many years in Asmara, such as Daoud Ibsa of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), along with his staff and other of this organisation’s officials. Hundreds of OLF recruits have been stationed and trained in a camp near Teseney. The head of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), “Admiral” Mohamed Omar Osman, is frequently in Asmara where the leader of the Ethiopian People’s Patriotic Front (EPPF), Musse Tegene, moved after leaving his residence in Geneva. Mussa Ibrahim of the ARDUF (Afar rebel movement) is also one of Asmara’s new residents, where Gelfato Feka of the Sidama Liberation Front and Meazo Make of Southern Ethiopia People’s for Justice and Equality are also “guests” of the Eritrean government. The movements of these Ethiopian opponents are monitored by the security services and the Eritrean government party and they are under the control of Colonels Teame and Mussa. The ONLF, which can take pride in an extensive action against a Chinese mining company in Ethiopia, carried off the lion’s share of funds given by Libya to Eritrea to finance the Ethiopian opposition. The other Ethiopian rebel groups had to be content with the strict minimum.