After several days of silence, the leader of the Ethiopian opposition forces in Eritrea, Dr. Berhanu Nega commented on the defection of TPDM rebels to Ethiopia. He told a group of diaspora based media outlets that TPDM chairman General Molla Asgedom did not take with him over 700 TPDM fighers as reported. According to Berhanu, the general had only a couple dozen disgruntled soldiers when they crossed the border to Sudan.
“The betrayal by the general Molla crew did not affect our movement because TPDM still has thousands of other soldiers left in Eritrea,” Berhanu said. He added that it is actually better for these deserters leave early in the struggle than have defectors in the later stages. The vice-chairman of TPDM Mr. Mekonnen Tesfay also supported Berhanu’s assertion that the Ethiopian opposition army inside Eritrea is still strong.
Dr. Berhanu Nega was recently named the chairman of a new coalition labeled the “Salvation Movement,” which is made up of the Tigray People’s Democratic Movement (TPDM), Arbegnoch Ginbot 7 for Unity and Democratic Movement (AGUDM), the Afar People’s Liberation Movement (APLM), and the Amhara Democratic Force Movement (ADFM). According to inside sources, General Molla’s defection is significant because TPDM was the only militarily strong member of this new coalition.
Meanwhile, the influential US-based journalist Elias Kifle, publisher of the Ethiopian Review website, said the Eritrean government can not be trusted to provide safe heaven for Ethiopian opposition groups. He accused Asmara of imposing “travel restrictions on all Ethiopian opposition leaders” in Eritrea. Elias says Eritrea has a poor track record of killing or imprisoning various Ethiopian opposition officials, including Oromo opposition leader General Kemal Gelchu and Colonel Tadesse Muluneh.
US-based political analyst Teshome Borago also said Berhanu’s group in Eritrea seem to be ideologically fragmented. “Berhanu’s Salvation Movement will be prone to more future defections because there is no common political stance uniting the multinational camp with its ethnic-based camp,” he warned. Mr Teshome is also the chairman of the new GEM movement, which claims to represent millions of ethnically mixed Ethiopians. He said the current Tigrayan-led Ethiopian government will collapse overtime because it underestimates how much of the country is ethnically mixed and patriotic.
Last week, US-based Oromo political analyst Jawar Mohammed suggested that the Tigrayan-led Ethiopian government is a racist dictatorship. Jawar said he was not surprised about General Molla’s defection because other Ethiopian rebel groups were labeled ‘terrorists’ by the government, but “despite being the most heavily armed group, TPDM was never declared as terrorist group.”
Mr. Jawar believes the TPDM gradually joining the TPLF ruling party will increase Tigrayan unity in Ethiopia but it will “intensify their alienation from the rest” of the population.