Local Eritrean community protests war

Jake Kapsner

A war most people outside of Africa have a hard time understanding instigated peaceful protests around the world on Friday.
About 600 members of the local Eritrean community gathered on the steps of the state Capitol for two hours of speeches, flag waving and petition signing.
“Let us raise our voices for a peaceful resolution. The people of Ethiopia and Eritrea deserve peace,” one man said as a handful of adults in the crowd waved Eritrean flags and children held cardboard signs that read, “Kids like me are dying.”
Helen Tesfay, a freshman at Carleton College, carried one such sign.
“We’ve never wanted a war to begin with. All we ask is for the war to stop,” Tesfay said.
Six years after Ethiopia formally granted independence to its tiny neighbor on the Red Sea, the country is at war with Eritrea over disputed stretches of the two countries’ 600-mile border.
Both sides blame the other for aggressively trying to seize territory in a battle that began last year, ebbed, then re-ignited in early February. The countries claim that about 10,000 lives have been lost in the bloodshed thus far.
Treaties with European colonial powers at the turn of the century identify the border differently, and both sides claim ownership of the land.
“So far since May, 52,000 Eritreans have been deported from Ethiopia, leaving everything behind,” said Petros Haile, who spoke to the Eritrean community he helped organize in St. Paul. The Ethiopian government claims that 40,000 of its citizens have been deported by Eritrea. However, international human rights groups report that the governments of both countries have inflated the number of deportees.
Among the deported are Haile’s brother and sister, who are United Nations workers and should not have been deported, he said.
Feben Ghilagaber, a sophomore in the Carlson School of Management and one of about 50 University students who attended the demonstration, said 40 to 50 of her family members still living in east Africa have been deported as well.
Haile and others said they were disturbed by a letter they received from U.S. Sen. Rod Grams, R-Minn., in February, which acknowledges that “the outbreak of hostilities between these allies of the United States is disappointing.”
The letter also notes that the two countries “had shown signs of mutual cooperation” and “were making progress toward open markets and decentralized economies.”
Grams, a congressional delegate to the United Nations and a member of the Senate Subcommittee on African Affairs, met with Ethiopian prime minister, Meles Zenawi, during a 1997 fact-finding mission to Africa.
This connection with Zenawi, and the fact that Grams doesn’t consider the border war an instance of “ethnic cleansing,” suggests an Ethiopian bias, said Haile and Alamin Adam, a food science major.
Steve Behm, Grams’ press secretary, said the letter reflects what everyone wants: peace.
Adam, however, said government officials should pay heed to international organizations’ claims of widespread human rights abuses that have occurred in the past year of war.
“You have an apathy where people wait until something like the Holocaust occurs to do something,” Adam said.