Tesfalem Araia – (BBC Tigrinya) — The US embassy in Eritrea seems to have entered the fray in the debate over the country’s independence from Ethiopia, saying Eritreans are “very proud of their hard-won struggle for independence” and it was “looking forward” to the nation’s “upcoming birthday”.
The embassy’s statement – posted on Facebook – came after Ethiopia’s foreign affairs spokesman Dina Mufti angered many Eritreans on social media by saying that “Eritreans don’t celebrate the day they were separated from Ethiopia”.
Eritrea will celebrate Independence Day on 24 May. Eritrean fighters took control of the capital Asmara, on this day in 1991 and independence was officially declared in 1993.
In a rare show of unity, supporters and opponents of the Eritrean government – including famous artists and diplomats – criticised Mr Mufti’s comments. Many of them demanded an apology from him, and some even suggested that he should be sacked.
An official at the Eritrean embassy in the UK, Yared Tesfay, said Mr Mufti’s “latest blunder is one too many” and questioned for how much longer Ethiopia’s foreign ministry could “tolerate his ill-considered utterances”.
The remarks by @mufti_dina, spokesperson @mfaethiopia denying the #Eritrean people’s love for their country&independence are downright irresponsible. This latest blunder is one too many. How much longer can MFA Ethiopia tolerate his ill-considered utterances? @PMEthiopia https://t.co/gJnTeAsmZN pic.twitter.com/n06FTiyS0x
— Yared Tesfay (@ytmn2) March 31, 2021
In a BBC interview, Mr Mufti said his comments had been taken out of context.
“I have great respect for Eritreans and Eritrean independence as a country,” he added.
Eritrea and Ethiopia cut diplomatic ties following a border war between 1998 and 2001, but relations were restored after Abiy Ahmed became Ethiopia’s prime minister in 2018 and promised to hand over territory that an international tribunal had ruled belonged to Eritrea.
Now the two armies are allies. Since November, Eritrean troops have been in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, helping the Ethiopian military to fight the region’s former ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
At his weekly press conference on Tuesday, Mr Mufti said: “People don’t ask but if every Eritrean is asked, they don’t celebrate the day they were separated from Ethiopia. They don’t like it.
“Those in the diaspora say it. It is the same feeling from the Ethiopians’ side. It is not only with Eritrea, but also it would be good to unite with the rest of the neighbouring countries. The relationship with Eritrea was, that of one people and one country.!
He also said that Eritrean forces would leave Ethiopia.
“But when will they go out? How many? I don’t have information. I will tell you when I get the information,” he said.
Mr Mufti previously denied that Eritrean troops were in Tigray.
The presence of the troops in Tigray is controversial – when the conflict broke out, Mr Abiy rejected calls for international mediation to resolve differences with the TPLF, saying Ethiopia was a sovereign state and would carry out its own “law-enforcement” operation in the region.