The Sad Story of Ayder School and Weyane’s Deceit

Eritrean Press

EP: Eritrean Press would like to clarify the elaborate deception given by double-dealer Weyane to Ethiopians, particularly to Tegaru about the Ayder School’s accidental bombing in Mekele. We have been asked several times before to inform the truth of what had happened twenty-two years ago this week and the following airstrikes on the civilian population. Honesty is Eritreans’ trademark.

07 June 2020 – (EP) On Friday morning June 5th 1998, Ethiopian planes twice bombed Asmara airport in Eritrea, where one civilian was killed. A few hours later, the shell-shocked Eritrean Air Force (pictured) took off to the sky in retaliation and bombed the outskirts of Mekele city.

Weyane claimed that the bombing of Asmara airport was in response to the bombing of Mekele and that Eritrea had started the air-strikes. Eritrea denied this and claimed that Weyane led Ethiopia attacked first. The Western government and reporters immediately rebuffed their claim and said Weyane started it.

The next day, on Saturday 06 June, Asmara’s airport was bombed again. However, this time, Eritrea’s heavy anti-aircraft batteries were waiting and shot down Ethiopian MiG-23 over Asmara.

The jet’s pilot, Captain Petros Bezabeh caught again for the second time by Eritreans who had let him go free after the first capture. He died several years later in Asmara from a natural cause after he was medically treated by the international Red Cross doctors. Weyane was informed of his passing away by the International Red Cross but kept it secret. (That story is for another day)

On the same day 06 June, reports reached Asmara that the bombing in the outskirts of Mekele had hit a wrong target on the previous day. The bomb hit a Primary school. The government of Eritrea immediately accepted that during air strikes on Mekele, a “school was hit accidental and civilians might be killed”, although Asmara had no acknowledged of the number of casualties.

Weyane officially stated that that bomb killed fifty-three civilians, including twelve school children.
Eritrea claimed that the bombing of the school was a mistake and has apologised for this: “We were successful in attacking military installations. People in Mekele and Adigrat have witnessed it.

Unfortunately civilians were killed… It was not intentional, sometimes you can miss your target. We are sorry for that,” said Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki a week later on 15 June 1998, speaking to Eritrean state TV.

A Tigrayan ‘witness’ called Ayte Buzuayhu Nega said, “The bomb was very big,” and, said he saw the bomb explode in midair. “It was about 250 kilograms.” How the Tigrayan man measured the weight of the midair exploded bomb is another subject for our readers to discuss.

Days later, U.S., Italian, German and British planes evacuated more than 1,000 foreigners after Ethiopia agreed to stop bombing Asmara airport.

On 11 June, Ethiopia’s planes bombed again and killed several civilians. A few hours later, Eritrea’s jets responded by bombing military warehouses in Adigrat in northern Ethiopia.

By this time, the international community was “fed up” with both countries for using unsophisticated jets and dropping unguided missiles and bombs on innocent civilians. So, they decided to bring in the world “heavyweight” – U.S. President Bill Clinton.

On 14 June, the U.S. President Bill Clinton phoned the two countries’ leaders and told them to “fight it out on the ground”. Both sides agreed to a moratorium on air strikes, and the jet fighting quickly subsided.

The ground war continued for several days. Then, Weyane army generals asked for ‘time out’ just like a basketball match.

Weyane indicated that they were ‘ready’ on 06 February 1999. Fighting broke out. No planes just ground wars.

The ground war did not go for Weyane ‘master’ tacticians. Plan B. Weyane wanted to use their bomber planes, defying the agreement brokered by President Bill Clinton.
On 9 February 1999, the Eritrean Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement saying that a family of five had been killed by an Ethiopian air raid on the village of Lali Deda, a village in the Badme triangle. This attack was witnessed by foreign journalists. The civilians were living in tents with UN markings.

Eritrea at the same time condemned the shelling of its border town of Adi Quala in which eight civilians were killed and dozens wounded by Ethiopian artillery.

Ethiopia has denied targeting civilians deliberately and on 11 February issued a statement saying that the government “sincerely regrets these civilian deaths”.
On 15 April, the Ethiopian air force bombed the towns of Adi Kayh and Mendefera, about 60 km north of Zalembessa and 55km south of Asmara respectively. Ethiopia claimed it was attacking military targets, but Eritrea announced that 10 school children and an elderly man had been injured during the attack on Adi Kayh. The attack was the first airstrike AWAY from the front lines since the air moratorium in June 1998.

Weyane alleged that Eritrea intentionally targeted civilian neighbourhood in violation of international law and reported to the Eritrea-Ethiopia Commission. Additionally, Weyanne kept misleading its citizens about the incident. Sadly, on Weyane’s social media and websites, they still report that “500 children intentionally killed by Eritrea’s jets at Ayder School.”
Nevertheless, Eritrea vigorously denies this allegation. Importantly and smartly, Asmara wanted to calm down the future consequence that could cause to the two peoples’ relationship, Eritrea never publicised or reported the killing of Eritrean children and civilian death to the Commission. While Eritrea acknowledges that one of its aircraft did drop bombs in the vicinity of the Ayder School, that was honesty in Eritreans part, it contended that it was an accident to legitimate military operations, not a deliberate attack, and consequently not a basis for liability.

In 2002, the Commission was not prepared to draw the conclusion urged by Weyane that the attack on civilians had been intentional, as it was not convinced that Eritrea had deliberately targeted a civilian neighbourhood. Case closed.
This is the truth.

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