There is a narrative that the 2013 mutiny by a section of the Eritrean army was an attempt to oust President Isaias. This is how it is described in Wikipedia.
“The 2013 Eritrean Army mutiny was mounted on 21 January 2013, when around 100-200 soldiers of the Eritrean Army in the capital city, Asmara seized the headquarters of the state broadcaster, EriTV, and allegedly broadcast a message demanding reforms and the release of political prisoners. The mutiny was the first major incident of resistance to the rule of Isaias Afewerki since the purging of a group of fifteen ministers who demanded political reform in 2001. Details about the mutiny remain murky, with several (but not all) government officials denying it even took place, while opposition sources claimed it had been an abortive coup attempt.”
But a different narrative has emerged, from a well-informed source. It examines the role of General Sebhat Efrem, Minister of Energy and Mines for Eritrea, a former Minister of Defence and former Eritrean People’s Liberation Front commander during the Eritrean War of Independence. This account is closer to one produced by the opposition news organisation, Assena.
Sebhat Efrem was attacked in an apparent assination attempt in December last year, from which he is said to still be recovering.
The Forto rebellion – 2013
General Sebhat was, and remains, President Isaias’s right hand man. He was the person who sent months before the Forto uprising planning the operation. Work on Forto began in July 2012. Its aim was simple: President Isaias wanted to rid himself of senior officials. As ever, the role of carrying out the plan was assigned to Sebhat. He came up with the plan and passed it on to the president and his closest allies to be signed off.
The main aim was to eliminate Wedi Ali.
He had been a key commander, who refused to accept orders to capitulate during the 1998 – 2000 war when Ethiopian troops attacked the port of Assab during the Third Offensive in 2000. Eritreans regarded him as a hero – not something President Isaias was comfortable with.
There was also information that Wedi Ali was not happy with the way in which the president was running the country. Sebhat Efrem was instructed to contact Wedi Ali and to convince him that they could work together to topple the regime. A plan was worked out and a list of high officials to be arrested was agreed on. So too were a whole range of issues, including how the arrests were to be made, and what information and propaganda was to be released.
This ‘drama’ was carefully planned and submitted to the president and his team in July 2012. They all agreed it was an excellent plan: it just needed time to ripen. Over time Wedi Ali was convinced that Sebhat was truly working against the president and just waiting to get his team in place in Asmara.
When the planned date would come Sebhat was going to give the order to Wedi Ali to move his troops into Asmara. He and Wedi Ali would keen in touch by radio and the two men agreed on the cell code of these radios. The president and his associates were aware of all these developments and supported them. The plan was that when Wedi Ali arrived in Asmara, Sebhat would disappear.
This was exactly what took place. When Wedi Ali and his troops and tanks arrived at Forto on the outskirts of Asmara he was unable to reach Sebhat by radio. Wedi Ali was in the dark – he had no idea what had happened to Sebhat and it only gradually dawned on him that he had been betrayed. At this point Wedi Ali realised he was a dead man walking. His only option was to bombard the Ministry of Information. His troops – who had been told nothing of these plans – had not agreed to this.
At this moment Colonel Abraha Kifle was sent by the President to negotiate with the ‘rebels.’ Wedi Ali realised he had no options left, except to shoot Abraha Kifle and then turn his own gun on himself.
From President Isaias’s point of view the operation went entirely as planned. A number of senior officials were arrested and the government put out a fabricated story that the whole ‘rebellion’ was a plot by Muslims to topple the government.
In an interview after the ‘rebellion’ was put down President Isaias said he had been informed that a group of fighters led by Wedi Ali was advancing on Asmara and he instructed that they should be allowed to come. “We were aware they are advancing but we were just waiting them.”
In reality of course the president knew about the planned attack – he had been part and parcel of the planning. It is inconceivable that fighters with their tanks could move from Dekemhare (40km) to Asmara without the knowledge of the President or the Minister of Defence?
That Wedi Ali was a hero is unquestionable, but Operation Forto was not his plan to overthrow the government. It was a government plot to arrest senior officials.