Dispatches: The War in Eritrea

February 27, 1982

On February 16 the Ethiopian armed forces launched Operation Red Star, a military offensive aimed at isolating the Eritrean opposition and rebuilding the war-torn territory. Ethiopian troops in Eritrea number 120,000, and they are backed by MiG 23 jet fighters, MI-24 helicopter gunships, T-54 tanks and heavy artillery supplied by the USSR. The government in Addis Ababa has made few comments on the war since the original announcement of the campaign on January 25. Mohammed Siad Barre, the spokesman hereof the Eritrean Peoples’ Liberation Front (EPLF), asserts that the Ethiopians have suffered almost 11,000 killed or wounded in the three-week old war.

Ethiopia’s Revolution from Above

With hindsight it is possible to see in the course of the Ethiopian revolution a process of radicalization and post-revolutionary consolidation through which the Provisional Military Administration Committee (PMAC, or the Derg) established a stable new order on the ruins of the old. The direction of political and social change was by no means this clear during the first years after 1974. The pattern of revolutionary transformation involved a deep paradox, namely the conflict between the military leadership at the top and the various radical civilian forces below. At each stage of the revolution, the PMAC, aware of its own political weaknesses, sought to establish alliances with these civilian forces. Indeed it put into practice much of what the civilians were themselves demanding.

War Crisis Escalates

Political developments in Africa have lately slipped out of the headlines, but the confrontations brewing there could dwarf earlier conflicts in both military fury and political complexity. The US-backed regimes in Somalia and Sudan each face the possibility of sudden coups d’etat or civil wars. The Soviet-supported Ethiopian government is losing another in a long sequence of campaigns to stamp out nationalist guerrillas in the former Italian colony of Eritrea. Addis Ababa also faces ongoing revolts by three minority nationalities who are increasingly linking up with one another to topple the military authorities.

Letter from the Horn

Khartoum, May 1980: Hundreds of Eritreans, Ethiopians and Somalis were rounded up and put in prison in nearby Omdurman when Ethiopian leader Menguistu Hailemariam visited here May 25 to help celebrate the eleventh anniversary of Sudanese President Jaafar al-Numayri’s seizure of power. The purpose of the visit was to consolidate and formalize newly improved relations between the two countries. Sudan and Ethiopia have been at loggerheads since the 1960s, when Sudan provided assistance and haven for the Eritrean liberation movement and Ethiopian dissidents, and Ethiopia became the base for southern Sudanese opposition.


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