A British national and leader of an Ethiopian rebel group enters eleventh day, as his “accidental arrest” in Yemen slowly turns into a multilateral diplomatic tension.

Andargachew Tsegie, second-in-command of an outlawed Ethiopian group, Ginbot 7, captured while passing through Sana’a international airport, on June 23, could still be in Yemeni jail despite wide-spread rumors that he is already on Ethiopian soil.

The group disclosed, in a brief statement last Monday, that Andargachew Tsigie travelled to Sana’a by Yemenia Airways without disclosing the origin or destination of the flight.Andargachew Tsige - Ginbot 7 - Ethiopia

The group’s chairman, Berhanu Nega, subsequently claimed that Andargachew Tsegie flew from Dubai to Sana’a by Yemenia Airways flight no. 853 and that he was supposed to board a flight “to a third country” after two hours transit time in the airport. Neither the destination, nor the provider of the connecting flight was disclosed.

Berhanu Nega claimed that Yemen has no reason to detain Andargachew Tsigie even “for an hour”.

However, an informed source confided to HornAffairs that Andargachew Tsigie attracted attention due to lack of Transit Visa (a.k.a. Direct Airside Transit visa). According to the source, who demanded not to be named due to the political sensitivity of the matter, Yemeni officers who were simply inquiring the incompleteness of the travel documentation might have been prompted to pay more attention as Andargachew Tsigie started making phone calls in the hope of finding a quick-fix for the matter.

The fact that whether a traveler needs a Transit visa, and the procedure thereof, are diverse and inconsistent – from country to country and for different group of passengers – makes it plausible that Andargachew Tsigie could have missed Yemen’s requirements.

Ginbot-7 said on Monday that it has been quietly working to get Andargachew Tsegie released for about a week and decided to make it public due to fears that Yemeni officials might extradite him to Ethiopia.

It was not clear how long the Ethiopian government have been aware of the detention and how strongly it wishes to have Andargachew Tsigie extradited to Addis Ababa, where he has been sentenced to death in absentia in connection to a foiled attempt to “overthrow the Constitutional order”.

The first official comment on the matter came, a few hours ago, from the Prime Minister’s spokesperson who told AFP that it would be “the right thing” if Yemen extradited Andargachew Tsigie. He was quoted as saying: “He is a criminal, and he definitely will have his day in court….. He’s the head of a terrorist organization who has been flaunting his leadership for terror operations inside Ethiopia”.

Ginbot-7 has been described as a “group which espouses violent overthrow of the government” in a 2011 US State Department report. It is designated as terrorist by the Ethiopian parliament and the regional inter-governmental body, IGAD.

Ethiopian officials have yet to disclose whether they sent an official extradition request to Yemen or not. However, many speculate that Yemeni police might have provided access to Ethiopian officers to interrogate the detainee. Horn Affairs has no way of verifying the speculation.

A security cooperation framework signed by the two nations in 1999 stipulates that the two nations will cooperate with each other to fight those engaged in subversive activities to destabilize the peace and security of the two countries, according to news dispatch from the Chinese news agency Xinhua at the time.

Horn Affairs have not been able to secure the text of that agreement so far. However, one source indicated that the agreement has an extradition component, with the only exception being the nationals of the two countries. Media reports indicate that Yemen recently extradited an Ethiopian citizen wanted for tax fraud. Though, it is not clear whether that extradition took place under the security cooperation agreement or via Interpol.

On the other hand, a diplomatic source in Addis Ababa insisted that Andargachew Tsigie’s British citizenship is the prime reason that he is not extradited to Ethiopia so far.

However, a statement from the British Embassy in Yemen, obtained by Horn Affairs, claimed that the Embassy is aware of the matter and seeking clarification from Yemeni authorities.

A couple of Ethiopian outlawed groups have been complaining that neighboring countries, except Eritrea, handover individuals wanted by Addis Ababa. Ginbot 7’s leader Berhanu Nega reiterated the complaints, adding that he suspects “a third country” could be assisting Ethiopia in the current issue. A diaspora opposition website, Ethiopian Review, posed an apparently rhetorical question today: “have Yemeni security agents acquired a green light from British Intelligence Service to carry out the [detention]?”

It should be noted that relations between Eritrea, where Ginbot 7 is based, and Yemen have been tense since the former invaded the latter’s islands a decade ago. Eritrea frequently detains en-mass Yemeni fishermen for several months claiming that they crossed her maritime border. Eritrea has also been accused of sending weapons to Yemeni’s Houthi rebels.

That puts Britain in an awkward position of assisting her citizen and being perceived as undermining the concerns Ethiopia and Yemen, her important allies in the region.

An official statement from Ginbot-7 sternly threatened that: “We will retaliate in any way and at anyplace for any harm on the body, sprit and life of Andargachew Tsigie”. It is not clear how seriously Britain took the threat, which so far appears to be directed to Ethiopia and Yemen.


*Editing: The first paragraph has been edited to reflect the uncertainty on how long in has been in Yemeni jail and when he was deported.

Daniel Berhane

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