, NAIROBI, Aug 31 – As Ethiopia prepares to bury their late leader Meles Zenawi, former rebel comrades turned arch-foes in neighbouring Eritrea have remained silent on the death of the regional strongman.
Almost two weeks since Meles died after a long illness, Asmara’s entirely state run media appears to have made no mention of the death of their old enemy, while Eritrean officials have not replied to telephone calls.
In contrast, Meles’s death dominates opposition or diaspora-run websites, criticising Asmara’s “media blackout” and calling for open debate on how new leaders in Addis Ababa could change relations with Asmara.
Eritrean media “has conspicuously remained silent as if nothing has happened in the Horn (of Africa)”, an article on the opposition Asmarino website read.
Eritrea, which won independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after one of the continents longest and most bitter rebellions, returned to war in a bloody 1998-2000 border conflict in which at least 70,000 died.
A peace deal led to a tense standoff, with tens of thousands of troops on both sides of the border in heavily fortified trenches, but some had hoped the death of Meles could see a possible shift in the neighbours’ frozen relations.
Meles refused to pull troops from the border town of Badme, even after an international court ruled the town belonged to Eritrea, a source of festering discontent between the two nations ever since.
But it is not clear if Meles’s death has been broadcast inside the secretive Red Sea state, which has no independent media and ranks worst in the world for press freedom, according to the rights group Reporters without Borders.
Meles is due to be buried in a state funeral on Sunday.
“Acknowledging the death of the late prime minister, whose country’s fate is still intertwined with the lives of Eritreans, is the right thing to do,” the Asmarino site added.
The opposition website Awate fears Meles’s death heralds “uncertain times”.
“One of the most pressing issues for Eritreans in this scenario is the reassessment of their options,” it read.
Many analysts have pointed to the deep personal rivalry between Meles and Eritrean President Issaias Afeworki, both former rebel comrades from the same ethnic group.
The pair both led allied rebel groups who overthrew the regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1991.
“This episode should not be a personal matter between two intransigent personalities,” the Asmarino website added. “It is to do with devising ways that bring divided people together.”
The government’s Eritrea Profile newspaper has largely focused its recent reporting on Issaias’s speech at an investment conference, cultural festivals and agricultural successes.
Issaias, like Meles, was also reported to have been sick in recent months, claims Asmara quashed as “demonising campaigns” by the United States spy agency.