[Video] Meles Zenawi started the 1998 war against Eritrea: Ambassador Herman Cohen
U.S. Ambassador Herman Cohen
Ambassador Herman Cohen, a veteran US diplomat who had worked in Sudan, Ethiopia, Mozambique and Angola said a minority regime could never achieve economic development.
“Ethiopians cannot invest if they don’t belong to the minority regime,” the ambassador said in an interview he gave to ESAT’s Assegid Habtewold, referring to the investment situation in Ethiopia where only government officials, army generals and cronies of the ruling Tigray Peoples Democratic Front (TPLF) were allowed to do business in the country. He stressed that a country could not bring economic turnaround where only a small clique has the economic upper hand in all facets of trade and investment.
Ambassador Cohen asked why Ethiopians living in the United States do not lobby their congressmen against the US policy on Ethiopian government. He mentioned that Armenians and Israelis who are effective in lobbying their congressmen were able to make the US government change its policy towards their respective countries.
Ambassador Cohen, who brokered an end to the Ethio-Eritrea conflict, gave his recollections on peace talks between the Derg regime, EPLF and TPLF rebel forces, America policy in the region, and Ethio-Eritrean relations.
Ambassador Herman Cohen recounted what happened when he brokered peace talks between the Derg regime, EPLF and TPLF in 1991. He said when he met President Mengistu Hailemariam for the first time, he advised him to negotiate with the rebel groups, improve political situation, respect human rights, and liberalize the economy.
Ambassador Cohen facilitated conditions for Mengistu to negotiate with rebel fighters and proposed Jimmy Carter to become mediator. Mr. Cohen also met the then rebel leaders Isaias Afwerki and Meles Zenawi as well as members of the Derg delegation, Tesfaye Dinka and Kasa kebede.
He said in the midst of the negotiation in 1991, however, the Derg army started crumbling. Mr Cohen said, “Ethiopians believed that if the United States was to be involved in the peace talks, it would end in favor of the opposition groups.” He said America did not take sides with any of the rebel groups or with the Mengistu regime at that time. “It was a difficult situation for America as both TPLF and EPLF were Albanian style communists.”
The situation was changed when Mengistu left for Zimbabwe. Cohen said the United States allowed the TPLF and EPLF to take control of Addis Ababa and Asmara respectively to end the war without further damage. Regarding Ethio-Eritrean relation, both Meles and Isaias agreed Eritrea would be part of Ethiopia till Eritreans hold a referendum in three year, the Ambassador said.
Ambassador Cohen also said he believes the grave mistake was made in 1962 when Eritrea was made a province of Ethiopia, revoking the confederation status known by the United Nations.
The Ambassador said when the Soviet Union stopped its support to the Derg, President Mengistu wanted a new ally that could provide him arms to fight against the rebels. “Though Mengistu had an ambition to acquire weapons of mass destruction (WMD), such as cluster bombs, he acquired ome arms from Pinochet of chili. He needed another ally that could increasingly support him. Israel gave him small arms; Mengistu Hailemariam in return let Felasha immigrant to Israel.” ambassador Herman Choen recounted.
Ambassador Choen was asked about Meles Zenawi’s attitude towards Amharas, particularly in relation to land ownership. Cohen said Meles told him :the land in Ethiopia could not be privatized just because he believed Amharas would buy it all cheap, which in turn would bring them to power.”
Meles also told Cohen that “during the Emperor regime, Amharas controlled the land, under the Derg regime the same Amharas controlled the land … I don’t want Amharas to come back on power.”
Cohen told ESAT that Meles’ fear of the Amhara was very strong.
Cohen further discussed the relation between Ethiopia and Eritrea. He believed that Ethiopia and Eritrea, did a very good job before they plunge into war in 1998. Ethiopians used the port of Assab and there was no interference by Eritreans at the beginning. “Eritreans made a mistake by introducing the Nakfa – Eritrean currency when they should have used the same Ethiopian currency,” according to Ambassador Cohen.
He believes that the 1998 war was started by Meles, for “he wanted to show Ethiopians that he equally despised Eritreans as other Ethiopians did for their independence.”
Even after the bloody war, Eritrea wanted to maintain that good relationship; but the Ethiopian side was not ready, according to Cohen.
Ambassador Cohen also said he regrets America’s misguided policy on Eritrea, particularly US vetoing of the motion to lift the sanction on Eritrea. According to Ambassador Cohen, there was no evidence that Eritrea supported Al-Shabab in Somalia. “The bad diplomatic relation might also have to do with Susan Rice and Isaias Afwerki on a personal level.”
In a region rocked by Al-Shabaab and ISIS, according to Ambassador Cohen, the Unites States believed that the Ethiopian military was the only strong force, a priority for the U.S. put in place. Mr. Cohen does not believe the American policy towards Eritrea would change during the Obama administration.
“America’s primary interest in the region is to see its national interest respected, and that would be possible when Ethiopia stayed strong in the region.”
Mr. Cohen also said the U.S. “should keep up with people who are not in power, maintain relations with them, while concentrating on national security.”
Forward the video below to 26:53 to hear Ambassador Cohen say: "The 1998 war was started by Meles [Zenawi]"
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