Reference: Eritreans Voting on Independence From Ethiopia
By DONATELLA LORCH,
Published: April 24, 1993
ASMARA, Ethiopia, April 23— In what is expected to be a resounding yes for independence, residents of the region called Eritrea began voting today to secede from Ethiopia.
Although Eritrea's three million people have had de facto independence and a provisional government since the overthrow of the Marxist Government in Ethiopia in May 1991, this referendum represents the final legitimization of more than 30 years of separatist insurgency.
But many governments are also concerned that Eritrean independence could set a dangerous precedent, encouraging other independence movements in Africa, particularly in northern Somalia and elsewhere in Ethiopia.
But such worries are of no concern here. On the eve of the vote, the residents of Asmara, the capital, filled the Italian-style bars and the wide palm-lined avenues, singing, dancing and hugging one another. They were celebrating the culmination of their country's path to nationhood after three decades of warfare between the Addis Ababa Government and the rebels, who coalesced into one of the world's most organized, cohesive guerrilla organizations under the banner of the Eritrean People's Liberation Front. New Leader Is Cautious
"This is mission accomplished," Isaias Afwerki, the 46-year-old secretary general of the Liberation Front and head of the transitional government, said after he voted today.
But he was cautious about defining the form of a future government. "The creation of democratic institutions will have priority," he said, but added, "Democracy should be subservient to stability in a country."
While the capture of Asmara by the rebels two years ago may have been the military triumph that secured independence, today's vote was a vindication of the widely held belief that linguistically, culturally and historically, Eritrea is separate from Ethiopia.
An Italian colony from 1890 to World War II, Eritrea was briefly under British mandate. Then in 1952, the United Nations awarded Eritrea to Ethiopia as part of a federation. Ten years later, it was annexed by the Ethiopian Emperor, Haile Selassie, spawning the Eritrean guerrilla insurgency. 100,000 Were Killed
The war between the guerrillas and the Government in Addis Ababa, first under Haile Selassie and then under the Marxist Government of Mengistu Haile Mariam, killed more than 60,000 guerrillas and about 40,000 Eritrean civilians. The Ethiopian Army waged a scorched-earth policy with saturation bombings and destruction of Eritrea's infrastructure.
There is little left in Eritrea outside of Asmara. The Ethiopians dismantled all the industries; there are no phones, only generator-powered electricity, and hardly any cars. More than 70 percent of the country is in need of food aid, World Food Program officials say.
In Decamere, a town just south of Asmara, most of the shops are boarded up, their walls scarred by bullets and mortars. A teenage boy operates the town's only switchboard and phone, a World War II-vintage army contraption that manages only to crackle.
Asmara was spared from great destruction, but it remains suspended in time, a pastel-colored town that might pass for an Italian provincial center of the mid-1950's, complete with rickety Fiats that are more than 30 years old.
Although nothing has been built for 17 years, many of the names have changed, reflecting a ubiquitous, unmistakable pride. There is the Freedom Pharmacy and the Peace Bar. In what was once the office of Ethiopian Airlines, a new sign advertises Eritrean Airlines. The office is open, but the airline still has no planes. First Election in 40 Years
This is the first time in 40 years that Eritreans have taken part in an election, and the organization has been an impressive feat of logistics. The Government has invited 350 observers. It has registered 1.2 million people, of whom only about 860,000 are in Eritrea. The other voters are in Sudanese refugee camps, or in Europe, Ethiopia or North America.
There are three days of voting, and the results will not be tallied before early next week, but United Nations officials and diplomats say the result is not in doubt. With the Organization of African Unity and the new Government of Ethiopia having accepted the legitimacy of the referendum, preparations are being made to declare Eritrea an independent nation on May 24.
Half Muslim and half Christian, with nine languages and a variety of ethnic groups, Eritrea, unlike its neighbors, has shown remarkable unity.
"Eritrea will be the most stable country in East Africa until the end of the century if not longer," a Western diplomat in Asmara said.
The Provisional Government is liberally supplied with American university Ph.D.'s, and it owes its smooth organization to the monopolistic, cohesive Liberation Front.
The front's leaders have abandoned their Communist polemics, but they still emphasize egalitarianism, and they are still warily and slowly trudging down the path of capitalism, diplomats say. Foreign investors have shied away from Eritrea.
Mr. Isaias has promised a multi-party system, but he is worried about Islamic fundamentalism and stresses that political parties cannot be constituted on religious and tribal bases. Although there is no timetable, the Government expects to have a constitution was written and elections held probably within the next couple of years. It also plans to demobilize 60 percent of the 100,000-member army.
The Liberation Front's claim to legitimacy is based on its years of stubborn self-reliance and self-denial. For the last two years, no member of the front has received a salary. In return for basic rations and housing, its soldiers have been employed rebuilding roads and irrigation canals and planting trees. That ethos is now carrying on into civilian life.
"To be frank, we have enormous problems waiting for us in the future," said Andebrhan Giorgis, the president of Asmara University. "But if we can sustain the spirit of self-sacrifice we have nurtured during the war, I think we can do it."
Photo: Factory employees took to the streets on Thursday in Decamere, Ethiopia, to show their joy over a referendum to determine whether Eritrea will secede from Ethiopia. The vote represents the final legitimization of the former Italian colony after more than 30 years of separatist insurgency. (Fiona McDougall for The New York Times) Map of Ethiopia showing the location of Eritrea.
ነስተውዕል፡ ተንኮል ጠላማት ንነዊሕ ግዜ ዝተጠንሰ ምንባሩ ካብዛ ኣብ 1993 ኣብ ግዜ ረፈረንዶም ብጭቅ ዝበለት ብቐይሕ ተጻሒፋ ዘላ ጽሕፍቲ ክንርዳእ ንኽእል። ህዝቢ ኤርትራ ድሕሪ ነጻነት ሰላም ድኣምበር ሽግራት እጽበ ኣይነበረን። እቶም ኣለምቲ ሽግር ግን ሃገር ሕንፍሽፍሽ ኣእትዮም ህዝቢ ነንሕድሕዱ ከባእሱ ይሰርሑ ከም ዝነበሩ ትገልጽ።