Eritrean leader says Zenawi tried to assassinate him, WikiLeaks reveals

By PETER LEFTIE pmutibo@ke.nationmedia.comPosted Friday, December 17 2010 at 20:06

Eritrean strongman Isaias Afeworki was nearly assassinated while on his way back to Asmara after a family holiday in Kenya, secret American diplomatic cables have revealed.

The secret cables posted online by the whistleblower website WikiLeaks accuse Ethiopian leader Meles Zenawi, a one time ally of Afeworki in Addis Ababa’s struggle to overthrow Mengistu Haile Mariam’s dictatorial rule, for the failed assassination attempt.

The classified cables, attributed to American ambassador to Asmara, Ronald McMullen, claim the 62-year-old Afeworki is an “austere and narcissistic” dictator who believes Addis Ababa and Washington  harbour a plot to assassinate him and hardly travels in a motorcade.  

“He is paranoid and believes Ethiopian PM Meles tried to kill him and that the United States will attempt to assassinate him,” McMullen wrote to his superiors in Washington on November 5, last year.

The cables revisit an incident in 1996 when President Zenawi offered one of his helicopters to fly President Afeworki to Asmara, only for it to burst into flames shortly after take off from Addis Ababa. Fortunately, the pilot was able to turn back and land safely in the Ethiopian capital, where a livid Afeworki told Zenawi to his face that he had plotted to kill him.

“Isaias and Meles, brothers in arms during the 1980s, are now blood enemies. Why? In 1996, while returning from a vacation in Kenya, Isaias, his family and his inner entourage stopped in Addis, where Meles offered to fly them back to Asmara in one of his aircraft,” the cables report.

“Isaias accepted the offer; en route the aircraft caught fire, but managed to turn back and land safely in Addis. According to someone who was on the aircraft, an infuriated Isaias accused Meles to his face of trying to kill him and his family. Isaias has not trusted Meles since, according to this source,” the story goes. The Eritrean leader also believes the Americans are out to kill him by bombing his residence.

“Isaias thinks the United States will attempt to kill him by missile strike at his residence in the city of Massawa, according to late 2007 information from the Force Commander of UNMEE (United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea),” the US envoy told his bosses in Washington. Afeworki’s paranoia is further demonstrated in his habits and mannerisms.

“Isaias has an aversion to talking on the telephone and frequently sleeps in different locations to foil a coup or assassination attempt,” the cables note.

“During the winter months he spends most of his time in Massawa rather than in Asmara. When dining in restaurants, Isaias will often switch plates with a subordinate, apparently to avoid being poisoned,” the report quotes the Qatari ambassador to Asmara.

The cables describe the Eritrean leader as a man who keeps grudges and hardly forgives those who cross his path. They report an incident when he had a spat with Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh and has since declined to take part in efforts to end a border dispute between the two nations.

“A senior party official said Isaias and Djibouti President Guelleh had agreed during a 2008 telephone conversation to try to resolve at the presidential level issues related to the June border clash,” the cables state.

“According to this senior Eritrean official, Isaias was livid when Guelleh supposedly shortly thereafter lambasted Eritrean aggression in a media interview. Isaias reportedly felt personally betrayed by President Guelleh, and has been obstinate about resolving the Djibouti-Eritrea border dispute ever since.”

According to Mr McMullen, President Afeworki is just another African despot who detests democracy and is hell-bent on ruling the volatile horn of Africa nation for life.

“Isaias, 62, told a visiting German parliamentarian in late 2008 that he is healthy and expects to live another 40 or 50 years,” the cables reveal.


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