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DATE=4/20/99 TYPE=BACKGROUND REPORT NUMBER=5-43168 TITLE=ETHIOPIA / ERITREA CULTURE WAR BYLINE=SCOTT STEARNS DATELINE=ADDIS ABABA CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: ERITREA'S PRESIDENT SAYS HIS WAR WITH NEIGHBORING ETHIOPIA IS NOT ABOUT RIVAL BORDER CLAIMS, IT IS ABOUT CULTURE. AS V-O-A EAST AFRICA CORRESPONDENT SCOTT STEARNS REPORTS, THESE FORMER ALLIES IN THE HORN OF AFRICA HAVE MADE THE WAR PERSONAL. TEXT: THE TWO MEN RESPONSIBLE FOR THIS CONFLICT HAVE KNOWN EACH OTHER FOR YEARS. ERITREAN PRESIDENT ISAYAS AFEWORKI AND ETHIOPIAN PRIME MINISTER MELES ZENAWI GO BACK TO THE MID-1980'S WHEN THEY FOUGHT TOGETHER AGAINST ETHIOPIAN LEADER MENGISTU HAILLE MARIAM. AT THE START OF THIS WAR LAST MAY, REGIONAL DIPLOMATS FELT THE PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN PRESIDENT ISAYAS AND PRIME MINISTER MELES WOULD CALM ANY MISUNDERSTANDINGS ABOUT RIVAL BORDER CLAIMS. DAYS AFTER FIGHTING BEGAN, THE MEN SPOKE ON THE TELEPHONE. BOTH SAY THEY TRIED TO CONVINCE THE OTHER THAT WHAT WAS GOING ON ALONG THE BORDER WAS A MISTAKE, THAT THE TWO SIDES SHOULD PULL BACK AND AVOID MORE FIGHTING. BOTH NOW BLAME THE OTHER FOR REFUSING TO SEE REASON, EACH SAYING THEY ACTED TO PROTECT THEIR COUNTRY FROM FOREIGN INVASION. PRIME MINISTER MELES SAYS HE AND PRESIDENT ISAYAS HAVE NEVER BEEN THAT CLOSE, THAT THEIR PREVIOUS ALLIANCE WAS PURELY POLITICAL. /// MELES ACT ONE /// WELL, AS FAR AS I'M CONCERNED, THE PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP I HAD WITH ISAYAS WAS BASED ON NOT THINGS PERSONAL. SO THE BASIS OF THAT FRIENDSHIP WAS ESSENTIALLY POLITICAL. IT'S NOT BECAUSE WE ARE GOOD NEIGHBORS. /// END ACT /// ONCE THEY SUCCEEDED IN TOPPLING THE MENGISTU GOVERNMENT, PRIME MINISTER MELES SAYS HE AND PRESIDENT ISAYAS PRETTY MUCH WENT THEIR OWN WAYS AS ERITREA DECLARED ITS INDEPENDENCE FROM THE REST OF ETHIOPIA. /// MELES ACT TWO /// THE PILLAR OF THAT RELATIONSHIP WAS THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN TWO GOVERNMENTS AND TWO MOVEMENTS, AND WHEN THAT FALLS OUT, THERE ISN'T MUCH OF A PILLAR LEFT. /// END ACT /// BOTH SIDES HAVE CRANKED UP AN OFTEN-VICIOUS PROPAGANDA WAR, PERSONALLY ATTACKING EACH OTHER'S CHARACTER AND MOTIVES. PRIME MINISTER MELES SAYS THE ACTIONS OF ERITREA'S GOVERNMENT ARE NOT THE ACTIONS OF A SANE MAN. PRESIDENT ISAYAS DESCRIBES THE PRIME MINISTER AS "TIMID," A MAN WHO, HE SAYS, SPENDS TOO MUCH TIME IN MEETINGS. PRESIDENT ISAYAS SAYS THE WAR IS A RESULT OF THE INFERIORITY THAT PRIME MINISTER MELES AND OTHER ETHNIC TIGRAYANS FEEL TOWARD PEOPLE WHO MIGHT CHALLENGE THEIR LEADERSHIP. /// ISAYAS ACT ONE /// THE TIGRAYANS GENERALLY HAVE ALWAYS FELT THAT THEY HAVE BEEN DEHUMANIZED AND UNDERMINED OR NEGLECTED BY THIS SPECIAL GROUP. IT IS A VENDETTA. IT IS A REVENGE THAT THEY ARE DOING NOW. /// END ACT /// PRESIDENT ISAYAS SAYS PRIME MINISTER MELES IS OUT OF TOUCH WITH THE MAJORITY OF ETHIOPIANS ON WHOM TIGRAYAN LEADERS ARE NOW IMPOSING THEIR OWN CULTURAL ANXIETY. /// ISAYAS ACT TWO /// IT IS A CULTURAL PROBLEM. IT IS A PROBLEM OF THIS GROUP. THIS IS NO HIDDEN AGENDA. THIS IS A SMALL GROUP THAT HAS DEVELOPED ITS OWN POLITICAL CULTURE AND HAS DEVELOPED ITS OWN WAYS OF DEALING WITH THINGS. I SAY THEY ARE SCHIZOPHRENIC. THEY HAVE NEVER HAD ANY COMMITMENT TO ETHIOPIA. /// END ACT /// PRIME MINISTER MELES SAYS THE WAR IS NOT ABOUT TIGRAYAN CHARACTER. IT IS ABOUT ERITREAN AGGRESSION. /// MELES ACT THREE /// THERE IS NO CULTURAL THING ABOUT INVASION. THERE ARE RULES OF THE GAME THAT APPLY ACROSS ALL CULTURES. ON THE BORDER, THERE MIGHT HAVE BEEN CLAIMS AND COUNTER-CLAIMS . ALL WE SAID IS, YOU DON'T SHOOT YOUR WAY INTO AN AREA THAT IS BEING ADMINISTERED BY ANOTHER PERSON. IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH CULTURE AS SUCH. IT HAS EVERYTHING TO DO WITH ACCEPTING THE NORMS OF CIVILIZED BEHAVIOR AS ACCEPTED BY EVERYONE ELSE. /// END ACT /// PRIME MINISTER MELES SAYS HE IS SURPRISED THAT AFTER SUFFERING SO LONG FOR INDEPENDENCE, PRESIDENT ISAYAS WOULD LEAD ERITREA INTO WAR TO SATISFY WHAT HE CALLS THE PRESIDENT'S MISGUIDED GRAB FOR REGIONAL POWER. /// MELES ACT FOUR /// I WAS VERY DISTURBED THAT A PEOPLE WHO HAD GONE THROUGH THE SUFFERING OF WAR FOR 30 YEARS, WHO WERE CRAVING PEACE, WHO LIKE US WERE VERY POOR, EXTREMELY POOR, VERY LIMITED RESOURCES AVAILABLE, WOULD BE RISKING SQUANDERING ALL THIS ON THE ALTAR OF GRANDEUR. /// END ACT /// THIS DEEPLY PERSONAL CONFLICT BETWEEN TWO MEN AND TWO NATIONS IS BECOMING ONE OF THE WORLD'S BIGGEST WARS. THERE ARE MORE THAN 300-THOUSAND TROOPS ALONG A ROCKY BORDER WITH SOVIET-ERA TANKS AND FIGHTER JETS. MILITARY OBSERVERS ESTIMATE MORE THAN 40-THOUSAND DEAD IN LESS THAN A YEAR. (SIGNED) NEB/SKS/JWH 20-Apr-99 8:37 AM EDT (1237 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .





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