Alison Cozby 4492

March 8,2002




Jane Perlez, "Prisoner no. 14279: Forlorn pawn in Ethiopia's Long and Ruinous Civil War," The New York Times, February 19, 1990.


Summary:   Among 55,000 prisoners of war, many young, uneducated members of the Ethiopian Army end up in the hands of rebels.  Two rebel groups , The Eritrean People's Liberation Front, who fight for independence of its northern province, and the Tigrean People's Liberation Front, which is a guerilla movement that has been fighting since the mid-1970's to overthrow Mengistu's government and replace it with a more Marxist regime, often keep Ethiopian Army prisoners in hopes that they will eventually join rebel ranks.


No Red Cross Access- Although the Red Cross is not allowed access to the prisoners, those held by the Eritreans are believed to be held in generally good conditions, perhaps receiving the same rations as the rebel forces.  Many of the captives, only teenagers, joined the Ethiopian army because they were forced or desperate, were given only three months of training, and made it on the front lines for only a few days before being captured.  Now they are held in a large football sized area, kept from running by guards and foreboding mountains.  The 1,500 prisoners sleep outdoors on sleeping mats, and mill about (sitting around, playing soccer) during the day.   The Ethiopian Government refuses to acknowledge the captures as its policy is that a soldier is fighting or dead.  The Eritrean rebels say they will release 10,000 prisoners who are from territories that are now "liberated", so those fighters would not end up in the Ethiopian Army again.


Whose Side Are They on?-  It seems that this promise to let some prisoners return to their 'liberated" homes is not all that promising.  Most of these "liberated' areas are controlled by the Tigerean People's Liberation Front, and so it is hypothesized that the rebels are releasing prisoners merely with the hope that they will choose to join the guerrilla forces.  In addition to the outdoor camps that hold war prisoners, the Eritreans also hold two Soviet advisors in even better conditions, well fed and harmlessly detained in small cottages.  The Soviet Union has been a major supplier of military aid the Ethiopia since 1977, but has recently urged a settlement with the rebels.  Moscow withdrew 450 military advisors, leaving 450, but none in Eritrea.  The captivity of Soviet official has given the Eritrean front diplomatic recognition, as front leaders meet with officials in London, and Washington regarding the release of Soviet officials.


Ethiopian Leader's Dire Message-  Ethiopian leader, Col. Mengistu Haile Maiam, appeal to armed forces, on radio and television, to make a final stand against the rebel forces.  It seems that the fear of a rebel victory was very real as he warned that if the rebels took the port of Massawa, the main economic trading center of Ethiopia, then it would mean the end of Ethiopian unity.