East Africa's quarrelling brothers could be squaring up for new
confrontations over their common border
Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is fighting for his political life and his international reputation amidst growing internal dissent. The main issue remains the frontier with Eritrea, focus of the war in 1998-2000 which killed up to 100,000 people on both sides. Since the Border Commission clarified its award of Badme and part of Irob to Eritrea in March 2003, Meles has been under pressure to refuse the ruling. He faces a couple of dangerous months ahead and his problems are aggravated by looming economic collapse and the constant threat of famine. As opposition within the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front and pro-EPRDF parties has begun to mount over Meles' plans for wholesale political reform, a key feature of discontent is the government's policy over Badme and its apparent acceptance of the Boundary Commission's decisions (even if reluctantly and under protest). The original opponents of Meles' conduct of the war were out-manoeuvred in 2001 and they remain on the side-lines. Former Defence Minister Siye Abraha has just been acquitted over charges of procuring a job for his sister but he remains in gaol with several other charges still pending. Others, such as Gebru Asrat, former President of Tigray Region, are still attempting to organise a political opposition and to 'renew' Meles' own Tigray People's Liberation Front. While Gebru may be making little progress, support for Meles within the TPLF is still haemorrhaging. Several of those who supported him in 2001 have defected, including a Tigray member of parliament and the administrator of the region's eastern zone. The TPLF Central Committee is showing signs of unease. One recent meeting in Tigray split 19/16, with the majority against Meles and these were people who supported him in 2001 against hardliners (AC Vol 42 No 9).
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