Eritrea’s government denied any knowledge of a rebel group that Ethiopia said had plotted to attack the country’s flagship hydropower plant.
Ethiopian security forces killed 13 members of the Benishangul Gumuz People’s Liberation Movement who’d traveled from Eritrea to attack the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, or GERD, Ethiopia’s deputy government spokesman Zadig Abrha said Thursday by phone. Seven other members of the group fled to neighboring Sudan, whose authorities handed them over to the Ethiopian government, he said.
“This whole accusation is preposterous and peddled for some sinister reason,” Eritrean Information Minister Yemane Gebremeskel said in a message sent via Twitter. He said he has “never heard of this group.”
The 6,000-megawatt GERD, scheduled for completion next year, is set to be Africa’s biggest hydropower plant, according to a June report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance. It’s being built on the Blue Nile River near the border with Sudan at an estimated cost of $6.4 billion and may be used to export power to East African countries, BNEF said.
Eritrea achieved independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after decades of armed struggle. The two countries fought again in 1998-2000 over the disputed territory of Badme on their border in a conflict that left at least 50,000 people dead.
The BPLM is part of the Peoples’ Alliance for Freedom and Democracy, an anti-Ethiopian government coalition, according to a statement issued by the Oslo-based PAFD in October 2015. The alliance didn’t immediately respond to an emailed request for comment. Calls to the telephone number listed in the statement for the BPLM, with an Eritrean dialing code, didn’t connect.
The PAFD said in its statement that members of the alliance include Gambella People’s Liberation Movement, the Ogaden National Liberation Front, the Oromo Liberation Front and the Sidama National Liberation Front. In 2013, Ethiopia’s government said it released 74 members of the BPLM, a year after signing a peace deal with the group’s deputy chairman. The movement agreed a similar pact in 2005, only to renounce it a year later.
There’s little public information about when the BPLM was established or its relationship, if any, with Eritrea’s administration. It was part of two other anti-Ethiopian government coalitions formed over the past decade, one of which was announced by Eritrean state media in late 2007.
“They’re clearly supported and trained by the Eritrean government,” Zadig said of the BPLM.
Sudanese Information Minister Ahmed Bilal Osman didn’t answer calls seeking comment on whether his country handed over the insurgents to Ethiopia.
While the alleged rebels “were in no way close to the dam,” they had a plan and were “marching toward” the facility when apprehended, Zadig said.
Eritrea’s government has “been in business of destabilizing Ethiopia in the region for more than a decade now,” he said. The GERD “is the symbol of Ethiopia’s renaissance. It’s not just a dam -- it has political, economic, social significance.”