Rebel groups pledge to depose Eritrean president

Sun May 2, 2010 11:06am GMT

By Jeremy Clarke

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Eritrean rebel groups are building a joint military front to depose a government they say is pursuing ethnic persecution and becoming a growing threat to regional security, an opposition leader told Reuters.

The Red Sea Afar Democratic Organisation (RSADO) -- one of many opposition movements based in nearby Ethiopia -- said the government of President Isaias Afwerki targets ethnic groups, such as the Afars, and will soon face military attacks.

The African nation allows no opposition groups inside the country and rights groups say thousands of political prisoners are detained in underground jails without charge.

"Innocent Eritreans are being hunted down like animals and this has to stop," RSADO's leader Ibrahim Haron said in remarks made by telephone and in e-mail exchanges.

"During the past two years the Eritrean government has killed at least 300 innocent Eritrean ethnic Afars ... Hundreds of others are in secret jails, or whereabouts unknown," said Ethiopian-based Haron.

The Afars live mainly in northern Ethiopia but also in neighbouring Eritrea and Djibouti.

Officials from the Eritrean Ministry of Information could not be immediately reached for comment.

The government says rebel groups are traitors who have belittled "the struggle": a 30-year war for independence fought and won against much larger and better funded Ethiopian forces.   Continued...

<p>Eritrea's President Isaias Afwerki listens to a question during an interview with Reuters in the capital Asmara May 20, 2009. REUTERS/Presidential Press Service/Handout</p>
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