The Post's report on the war in Eritrea ("Ethiopian Fall Offensive Sweeps Eritrea," Dec. 22) is so flawed that it cries out for comment.
First, it is impaired by a partial vision imposed by geography; The Post has yet to send a reporter to see the Eritrean side of the war. The title of the article is itself revealing, and it is partly negated by the contents. The testimony of the witnesses interviewed by Blaine Harden is bold; but some of their statements must be discounted, given the fact that they live under the barrel of Ethiopian guns. The only way to verify this would be to cross-check it against the testimony of Eritreans living behind the line of the Eritrean Peoples Liberation Front (EPLF).
Second, the report is outdated. The events described, such as the Ethiopian recapture of Barentu and Tessenei, occurred in late August, long before the piece appeared. Meanwhile, this, the eighth "final" offensive of the Ethiopian military, has been foiled. Its objective -- the capture of the EPLF base area -- has been defeated, resulting in the capture by the EPLF of more strategic weapons, thus increasing its defensive and offensive capabilities. Who is sweeping whom now?
Then, there is the matter of casualties. It is hateful to engage in body counts, but the facts are that for the six weeks between Oct. 10 and Nov. 26, Ethiopian casualties of dead, wounded and prisoners were more than 14,500, which is three times the figures quoted by Blaine Harden.
Finally, the report ends with a speculation that is baseless and irresponsible. It cites one Paul Henze of the Rand Corp., who suggests that the EPLF leadership may be cutting a deal with the Russians. Is that why Russian weapons of destruction are pounding Eritrea to rubble under the advice and supervision of Russian officers? Whoever believes that the EPLF is in league with the Russians, in these circumstances, will believe that the Brooklyn Bridge is for sale.
The truth is that the Eritrean people have been fighting a patriotic war of survival for a quarter-century. It is a war for national self-determination, a right that only the Eritreans were denied in the era of decolonization. And it is a war they are determined to win. They have survived seven Soviet-backed major offensives in the past eight years, and they will survive the most recent one. The U.S. government played a central role in denying the Eritreans their freedom in 1950, when the case of Eritrea, a former Italian colony, was on the agenda of the United Nations. A U.S.-sponsored resolution federated Eritrea with Ethiopia, against the wishes of the majority of the Eritrean people. Then in 1962, the United States turned the other way when emperor Haile Selassie illegally abolished the U.N.-imposed federation and invaded Eritrea. Today, there is a public movement afoot to rectify this historic wrong, and the sympathy the Eritreans have been gaining among the American public in the last few years is a cause for worry to some. One obvious obstacle such people would dream up is to label the Eritrean struggle as "Marxist." In the past the favorite labels were "Arab-backed" and "secessionist." Apparently these labels are seen to be no longer useful.
At least Blaine Harden tried to probe deeper than previous reporters to relate the war to its historical origin. Three cheers to him, for this, and also for confirming the oft-denied reports of grave human rights violations including rape, mass executions, destruction of crops and livestock, as well as the use of napalm and cluster bombs.
Recently the State Department's Chester Crocker, in a congressional hearing, discounted the reports about the use of napalm. How many innocent children must be burned alive before this outrage is stopped? It would be tantamount to complicity in constructive genocide to maintain silence in the face of these atrocities.
The Post can do its share in stopping this outrage by dispatching a fine reporter such as Blaine Harden to Eritnea, post haste. The evidence will then speak for itself. In Eritrea we have nothing to hide.