Hundreds of thousands have fled this country. This ghastly massacre is a reminder why.
In Eritrea, your last year of high school is also your first year in the army. Rebels from the country fought a 30-year war against its much larger neighbor Ethiopia, and, because of a continuing land dispute, hostilities are still considered active. Although conscription isn't exactly unusual around the world, in Eritrea, there are three huge downsides: Your obligatory service is indefinite, you're not allowed to leave the country, and the monthly pay is dismal — equal to about $10 on the black market.
The rest of the world doesn't really hear much about the country, as the foreign media is mostly barred entry, and Eritrea ranks dead last in Reporters Without Borders' press freedom index (behind North Korea). But last week, unconfirmed reports began filtering through the crevices of the Internet about the possible killing of conscripts who attempted escape while being transported to a labor camp.
The most complete report describes a scene of utter chaos and desperation. Its version of the carnage goes like this: As a truck full of conscripts passed through the capital, Asmara, two jumped out and were immediately shot by guards in the truck. Then, just down the road, a more planned breakaway unfolded. Some conscripts had apparently alerted their family members in Asmara that they were being transported across the country, and they asked them to wait at a major intersection so that they could jump out of the truck and be quickly whisked away. Family members commandeered a city bus to block the road, but as the conscripts left the truck, they and their families were sprayed indiscriminately with bullets.
The numbers of dead and injured vary in the reports, ranging from four to 29. The tight-lipped Eritrean government indirectly acknowledged the incident in a tweet from its information minister, who claimed that it was an accident and that two conscripts had fallen off the truck.