By Woldeyesus Ammar

Today, 1st of January 2015, Eritrea completes its 125th year of existence under that name. According to the earliest available figures, the population of the colony in 1893 counted only 191,127 followed by the 1900 estimate of 300,000 residents that included this writer’s father. We can assume that no one of those “first Eritreans” is still alive to celebrate this anniversary with the distressed 5 or 6 million of us today, whose gross inadequacies include being unable to know even the real count of the population at home and the figure for our shamefully increasing number in exile after quarter of a century of independence.   

Anyway, it is an occasion to say Happy 125th Anniversary to our (إرترياኤርትራ) Eritrea and then proceed to mention a few lasting legacies and notable events in the ups and downs of our past since the issuance of the Royal Decree of King Umberto the First on 1 January 1890 that put us on the world map.

Understandably, the figure of 125 years is reached by adding the:

  • 51 years of Italian colonial rule;
  • 11 years of the British ‘caretaker’ administration;
  • 10 years of Eritrea-Ethiopia ‘federation’;
  • 30 years of armed struggle, and
  • The past 23 years under a home-grown repression that replaced alien rule.

Anyone of us may have his/her take in listing only two topmost legacies of our modern history, and add a few memorable events within each of these periods. I am taking today’s occasion to list mine.  I will start with what I term the two topmost legacies – one positive, and the other negative.

  1. One People

Before the Italian advent, we belonged to our separate linguistic and small geographic entities and sub-entities. After common suffering under numerous hardships and humiliations, we have become one people – the Eritreans. To cut a long story short, our unity as one people with manageable diversities is the topmost legacy - achievement - of the past 125 years.

  1. One Military Mindset 

The second enduring legacy in us is what one can call a military mindset.  This is a legacy, a ‘philosophy’ in our lives, a social behaviour  built - or at least further solidified - through the countless armed conflicts we participated at or conducted by ourselves in the past 12.5 decades of our modern history. Although the pieces of territorial units that became Eritrea were not at peace locally even before 1890, it is sufficient to mention here only the wars we fought as one people: wars that unfortunately bequeathed us an unwanted behavioural infection – the military mindset - that highly values wars and the bravado in violence. We are all part of it because of our past history briefly mentioned below.

The Unwanted Wars Fought for Italy

The Battle of Adwa:

Take the skirmishes with Ethiopia before the Battle of Adwa, like the one at Debre-Ayla, in which over 8,000 Eritrean militias (bandas) took part. Then the Battle of Adwa of 1896 in which almost every young man in the new colony was required to partake. In that single battle, over 2,000 Eritreans died; unaccounted number were left disabled, and selected 500 elite askaris (soldiers) of the numerous prisoners of war suffered the amputation of their  right arms and left legs.

Campaign to colonize/pacify Somalia:

Between 1907 and 1910, well over 5,000 Eritrean askaris (soldiers) were recruited and sent to fight in Somalia. This was not a small number compared to the population of the territory. Although Italian Somaliland was declared Italian by 1908, Eritreans continued to be frontline fighters in the conflict that continued till 1920 against the Somali rebellion led by Sheikh Said Mohammed (‘Mad Mullah’).

Italy’s wars in Libya (‘Zemen Trubli’):

Between 1911 and 1932, an estimated 60,000 Eritreans were recruited and sent to fight Italy’s wars in Tripolitania and Cyrenaica (Libya). After the defeat of Turkey in Libya, fierce conflicts continued to rage against the patriotic rebels led by Omar Mukhtar that claimed untold number of Eritrean casualties. Some of those Eritreans who perished then included the Setimo battalion that sunk and disappeared in the Mediterranean Sea - and remember what is happening to Eritrean youth of today in the same sea!! 

The Battle of 1935-36 (Trenta Cinque):

Fascist Italy’s preparations for war against Ethiopia further militarized the entire Eritrean population. Eritrean askaris ranged in 28 battalions were the usual cannon folder at war frontlines in the battles that opened in October 1935 and continued till Mussolini’s declaration of his “East African Empire” in June 1936. An estimated 75,000 Eritrean askaris fought Italy’s conflicts in Ethiopia and in the pacification of the country till the end of Italian rule in Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia in 1941.

The so-called period of ‘peaceful’ struggle: 1941-1961

We usually wish to believe that the duration of British care-taker administration (1941-1952) and the federal period (1952-1962) was somewhat peaceful. However, taking into account the absence of security and the killings organized by Ethiopia-supported unionists and the various banditries/Shifta of the time, those two decades can hardly be called a period of peace.

The 30-year war for national liberation:

This was the only period that Eritreans saw logic in conducting the war for their freedom. It was not only very costly but it also further militarized the society and its mindset. This prolonged war that was hoped to be the war that would end all wars did not prove to be so.

Other unwanted wars with Yemen, Ethiopia and Djbouti:

After its independence, Eritrea continued to suffer of the military mindset of its leaders and in the society. There was little logic to fight all these painful armed conflicts with neighbours after 1991, but they occurred. The main cause was not only the leadership but also the general society’s acquired belief in solving conflicts through the barrel of the gun.

The military campaigns and conscriptions introduced after independence; the 28 Sawa military camp training rounds, the regular army and militia formations etc have deepened militarization of the entire society.  

The net outcome has been a negative mindset that denies space to moderation, dialogue, to tolerance and to the rule of law. In a word, the belief in the use of force/violence to solve differences is a collective madness. But it can be cured. It can be changed through steadfast struggle of the conscious segments in the society. For this reason, the struggle to fight and conquer this 125-year old negative legacy in us shall continue for quite some time to come – even in post-PFDJ years.

 Notable Occurrences (other than wars) During the Italian Period

  1. Italy’s settlement project in Eritrea: One of the primary interests of Italy in creating colonies was the objective of finding suitable land for the resettlement of Italians who were facing economic/land problems at home. Between 1876 and 1889 alone, some 2.2 million Italians migrated to the Americas.  hat is why a few months after declaring Eritrean an Italian colony, the Italian parliament and government passed laws that aimed to seize large tracts of land in Eritrea (terra domeniale). Pilot projects of the resettlement programme were started in a number of places. Extensive land confiscations deprived many peasants and herdsmen of their land. Eventually, all land below 850m altitude was declared state land and land concessions for up to 99 years were granted to Italians. However, the growing protests by the affected people, like the resistance led by Bahta Hagos of Segeneiti, and the unsuitability of many parts of the country for European settlement partly aborted the resettlement programme in Eritrea. Therefore, instead of going to Eritrea, 7.1 million Italian emigrants, mainly from southern Italy, settled in the United States (4.1m), in Argentina (1.8m) and in Brazil (1.2m) till the start of the First World War in 1914.
  1. Transport and communication Networks

Construction of the railway, the ropeway, and 3,400 km stretch of primary and second roads throughout the colony helped transform the life of the people who became “different” from the same peoples across the new frontier lines.

  1.  Industrialization, urbanization

In its war efforts, Italy established nearly 2,200 industrial enterprises and built modern urban centers in the colony.  The labour force in industries, mines, transport and modern agriculture reached nearly 40,000. Modernization was quick to spread in the colony, especially during the second half of Italian rule.

Notable/Memorable Occurrences during the British Administration

  1. The spread of education was the most important occurrence during the British care-taker administration from 1941 till 1952.
  2. The second most memorable event of this period is the emancipation of serfs in western Eritrea under the leadership of Ibrahim Sultan. It was estimated that up to 93% of the social groups in Barka and Sahel regions were, until the mid-1940s, subjected to serfdom that required them to provide heavy feudal payments and services to landlords. Vast majority of the emancipated serfs later rallied behind Ibrahim Sultan who led the largest pro-independence party and a block that helped create the symbolisms for Eritrean national awareness.
  3. The 2 December 1950 Resolution of the UN General Assembly on Eritrea.

Notable/Memorable Occurrences during the Federal Period

  1. This period was marked by succession of violations of the Federal Act decided by the UN General Assembly. Those unwarranted violations by Ethiopia and its local agents in Eritrea increased political consciousness among the urban population in all parts of Eritrea.
  2. The lowering of the Blue Eritrean Flag in late 1958 angered the general population, especially the young generation.
  3. The formation of the Eritrean Liberation Movement (ELM/Mahber Shewate) in Port Sudan in 1958 and the establishment of the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) in Cairo in1960 were the other major events of this period.

Notable/Memorable Occurrences during 1961-1991

  1. The massacre of about 1,000 innocent civilians at Ona and Besik-Dira in December 1970 created renewed anger against the Ethiopian occupation among Eritreans at home and in diaspora (including students in the Middle East, Europe and North America). The student (youth) movements in turn rekindled the forces in the liberation struggle.
  2. The ELF-EPLF civil war of 1980-81 changed the direction of the liberation struggle at many levels, and planted seeds for power control and polarization in the society.
  3. The victory at Afabet in March 1988 reassured Eritreans of a final victory in the liberation war.

Notable/Memorable Occurrences during the Past 23 Years

  1. The final defeat of the Ethiopian army, 24 May 1991.
  2. The crackdown of the PFDJ regime on the G15 reform movement in September 2001.
  3. The Lampedusa tragedy of 3 October 2013 that symbolized all the suffering being inflicted upon the entire nation in recent years.

Eritrean human rights and democracy activists in Australia have, on 22 December, interviewed over a public service radio in Melbourne the head of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea, reported Mr. Arei Mohammed Saleh, member of the EPDP branch in Melbourne.

The newly designated head of the Commission, Mr. Mike Smith, who is a university professor in Australia, was interviewed by Mr. Arei Mohamed Saleh and Ahmed Mahmoud Alhaj to explain a long range of topics including the mandate of the Commission and what Eritreans can expect from its reports.

Summarized below are points from the radio interview with the chairpersonof the UN Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea of which Ms. Sheila Keetharuth, the UN Human Rights Rapporteur on Eritrea is also a member.

Question: Does the setting up of a UN Commission of Inquiry mean the possible existence of crimes against humanity committed in Eritrea? What is the time frame the Commission’s mandate?

Answer: The Commission of Inquiry has been mandated to investigate alleged human rights violations in Eritrea. We are required to report back by June 2015. There is no mention of crimes against humanity in the resolution but … the Commission will document what violations of human rights have been committed (since independence of Eritrea).

Q: How can people contact you?

A: We already called for submissions from all concerned …..You can also ask anyone who has information relevant to this inquiry to send us his/her input by email (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ) before the closing date of 31st of January 2015. Some of those who submit information may be contacted in the future for further details.

Q: You launched your inquiry task on the 20th of November 2014 and have already met with Eritreans in Switzerland and Italy. Do you plan to meet Eritreans residing in other countries, in particular the Sudan ad Ethiopia where there are a large number of Eritrean refugees?

A: Yes and very definitely and we would like to meet Eritreans who are living in a number of different countries. We have in fact sent letters to a number of the neighboring countries to Eritrea. …. But we will be visiting a number of countries. We would like to visit all countries where Eritreans are living including Australia….

Q: Are you optimistic that the Eritrean government will allow you to visit Eritrea? If not, how will this affect your work?

A: We have written to the Eritrean government and also spoken to the diplomatic representative in Geneva and have asked for their agreement to our visiting and meeting people, and visiting various sites in Eritrea. They have not replied yet and I do not want to pre-judge… The Office of High Commission for Human Rights has a lot of experience in this area….where the commissions were not allowed to visit certain countries, information was collected from outside those countries from people who have first-hand experience, expertise …     and were able to provide very credible and compelling reports. …we will do our report whether we visit Eritrea or not.

Q: How do you verify the creditability of information you receive?

A: Commissions of inquiry follow established standard procedures…. We check the credibility of the information and the reliability of the source of the information…..

Q: How will you protect the identity of those who provide you with information as many may need assurances that their information and identity will not be leaked to the Eritrean regime?

A: We have all the measures to ensure the full confidentiality of all information and the identity of people who have had contact with us. Their concerns are well addressed if they do not want to be mentioned by name…

Q: How do you report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva?

A: In March 2015, we will give an oral report to the Council. We will tell what we were doing and will answer questions from Council members…..Then in June 2015, we shall make a presentation to the Council in Geneva and to the UN General Assembly in its next session, probably in October 2015. ….I would expect that the reports will include recommendations….

By Imogen Foulkes BBC News, Switzerland

Einsiedeln Abbey, Switzerland's oldest and most famous monastery, has opened its doors to asylum seekers.

The abbey was founded in the 10th Century; for over 1,000 years it has been a place of pilgrimage. For the Benedictine monks who live there, the daily routine, bounded by prayer, has changed little during that time.

But Abbot Urban Federer, who has been in the top job at the abbey for less than a year, wants to create new roles for Einsiedeln that reflect the challenges confronting 21st Century Switzerland.

Switzerland has a population which is now almost 25% foreign, with most immigrants coming from the European Union. Like other European countries, it is facing an increase in applications from asylum seekers, particularly Eritreans and Syrians.

Swiss voters have gone to the ballot box twice this year to vote on measures aimed at limiting immigration, but the country retains a relatively generous policy towards asylum seekers.

"As everywhere in Europe, there are more and more people coming from other countries, from other continents," Abbot Federer says. "And I thought we should do something too, as a church, as a monastery."

Swiss Eritrean Refugees1The 30 Eritreans live in bunks once used by the monks

Coincidentally, the local authorities approached the abbey, asking if it could house asylum seekers while their requests were being processed.

Former army barracks and even underground civil protection bunkers are being used as authorities struggle to respond.

Switzerland - Eritrea's biggest diaspora

  • Switzerland is now home to some 20,000 Eritreans
  • The UN estimates 4,000 people flee Eritrea every month
  • The UN Human Rights Council has condemned Eritrea for repression of political opponents and its policy of requiring all citizens to do unpaid, indefinite military service
  • Switzerland expects 25,000 asylum applications in 2014, mostly from Eritrea and Syria
  • Some cantons have used underground bunkers to house asylum seekers

Swiss Eritrean Refugees3The Eritreans staying at the abbey survived perilous journeys across the Mediterranean

"We did not want to put the asylum seekers into bunkers, in civil protection centres which are all underground with artificial light, artificial air conditioning and so on," says Fiona Elze, who is in charge of asylum in canton Schwyz, where Einsiedeln is situated.

The abbey agreed to make space for about 30 asylum seekers from Eritrea. They arrived in October, and live in accommodation once used by pilgrims.

Forced military service

Among them are 25-year-old Samuel, and Simon, 29. Both made the perilous journey across the Mediterranean.

Simon, who was travelling with his brother, remembers being loaded into a boat fit for 60 or 70 people. When it finally set sail, it was carrying almost 300.

The boat carrying his brother, which set off just afterwards, did not make it. Simon never saw his brother again.

Samuel's boat, too, quickly ran into difficulties. "We were a day and a half in the sea," he remembers. "Then Italian ships saved us."

Samuel was a teacher in Eritrea, but was imprisoned when he protested against forced military service. He was held for five months before escaping and trekking across Sudan and Libya to the Mediterranean. Eritrea's regime has been condemned by the United Nations for serious human rights violations.

In Einsiedeln, his life is very different. The abbey is a business as well as a place of worship, and the asylum seekers can earn some money, chopping wood at the timber yard and maintaining the extensive grounds.

Both Samuel and Simon have pinned their hopes on being accepted as refugees, so that they can live and work legally in Switzerland.

Many of the asylum seekers are Christians and are welcome in the church if they want to visit. But by and large the newcomers exist side by side with the monks, rather than together.

The monks have their own daily schedule, and tend not to mingle.

In addition, Einsiedeln is in one of the most conservative and traditional regions of Switzerland.

"I think some people were scared," admits Abbot Federer, who realised that locals were not completely enthusiastic about welcoming asylum seekers to the area.

"But I have the impression now they see it hasn't created a problem."

Fiona Elze says that "politically it is controversial".

"But if you look at it, who is coming? They are from Eritrea, where you have severe human rights violations, or from Syria, where there is actual conflict."

As for the monks themselves, Abbot Federer believes they have reacted to the newcomers in their midst with their usual Benedictine tranquillity.

Their days continue as they always have, punctuated by prayer and contemplation.

And, as their abbot points out, while the current project to accept asylum seekers is new, the abbey does have a 1,000-year-old tradition of offering sanctuary to pilgrims, many of whom trekked long distances in the hope of receiving physical and spiritual comfort.

Swiss Eritrean Refugees4For centuries, pilgrims have travelled to the abbey to see its Black Madonna

"We have always had people living with us," he insists.

The current group of asylum seekers are expected to move to local housing once their requests are processed, but Einsiedeln Abbey is expecting more newcomers.

And the monks may well find those new arrivals even more unusual: taking the place of the asylum seekers in the old pilgrims' quarters will be nuns from a neighbouring convent.

Nevertheless, Abbot Federer says that, should the authorities request space for asylum seekers again in the future, Einsiedeln will continue to be welcoming.

"If they ask, we are here."

 

The Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights (EMDHR) expresses its deepest shock to yet another tragic loss of Eritrean refugees in the Atbara River and the harassment of the refugees in the Shegerab Refugee Camp by Sudanese security forces. 

According to recent reports, early this week dozens of Eritrean refugees run away from the Shengerab refugee camp and attempted to cross the Atbara River to Khartoum on a wooden boat. Tragically, the unsafe boat capsized and as a result most of its passengers are believed to have died. With an intention to rescue the victims, another group of Eritrean refugees left the Shegerab camp which is  extra ordinary and daring step  given the spate of kidnappings over the years and the failure of Sudanese authorities in providing adequate protection. Yet, the Sudanese authorities chose to arrest the rescue team and burn the refugee shelters in the camp, instead of investigating the fatal incident and providing support to the traumatized refugees reeling from the dreadful incident and many more before that. 

While we have always been grateful for the historical and continuing generosity of the Sudanese government and people in hosting Eritrean refugees, we condemn the unlawful arrest of vulnerable refugees and the use of paramilitary security forces in the refugee camp.

We urge:

  1. The Sudanese government to set up an independent inquiry commission to investigate the incidents surrounding the crisis involving Eritrean refugees in the Shegerab Refugee Camp;
  2. Sudanese authorities to immediately release all Eritrean refugees unlawfully arrested and held by Sudanese security forces; authorities must also immediately withdraw paramilitary security forces out of the Shegerab Refugee Camp;
  3. The Sudanese government to do all under its power to find and identify the bodies of the victims of the Atbara River and return them to their families in Eritrea for proper burial;
  4. The Sudanese Government to grant Eritrean refugees freedom of movement within Sudan which will no doubt stop the fatal practices of human smuggling and extortion by unscrupulous individuals;
  5. The Sudanese authorities have the obligation and responsibility to provide adequate protection to the Eritrean refugees under their jurisdiction;
  6. The UNHCR and the international community must seriously pay attention to the Eritrean refugee crisis and assist in finding durable solutions;
  7. The international community must reject and condemn the totalitarian regime ruling Eritrea which is the primary cause for the human rights and refugee crises. In the face of the continuous tragedies and precarious conditions in Eritrea, the world should join us in saying enough is enough and press for democratic change.

Refugee Protection Office

Eritrean Movement for Democracy and Human Rights (EMDHR)

27 December 2014

Pretoria, South Africa

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

www.emdhr.net 

In an urgent Christmas-day message to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the Eritrean People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) regretted the continued failure of UNHCR to protect refugees and condemned the mayhem carried out by the Sudanese security forces at the Shagarab camp on 24 and 25 December 2014.

The memorandum stated that following the drowning of about 28 out of 30 Eritrean refugees in the Setit-Atbara River on Christmas Eve of 2014, misunderstandings flared up between the locals and the refugees.

By taking this excuse to intervene, the Sudanese security forces have invaded the Shagarab camp and committed untold atrocities. They mindlessly beat camp residents, burned their improvised shacks, and looted property. The security forces also loaded to army vehicles nearly 1,000 young people under duress and reportedly took them to the Ghirba region. They are currently threatening to send them to Eritrea

Shegerab

The EPDP message also informed UN High Commissioner Antonio Guterres that well over 50 camp residents, many of them with seriously broken hands and legs, are reportedly in hospital. Many refugees who fled from the camp are also scattered around the region and are under the fear of being taken hostage by the Rashaida human traffickers in east Sudan.

The memo further expressed anger and frustration with Sudan’s and UNHCR’s continued failure to protect the residents of the reception camp at Shararab which has been under the constant threat of human traffickers and their accomplices in the Sudanese security forces.

The EPDP memo recalled the High Commissioner’s visit to the camp in January 2012 and his promise to boost protection to the residents from all abusers in the region. Unfortunately, what followed in January 2013 was the tragic incident of January 2013 in which 8 camp residents were taken hostage from inside the camp only a year after that visit, the memo added.

This memorandum underlined the inescapable responsibility of the Sudand and the UNHCR for what is going on at Shagarab now, and that they should have done all what it needed to protect the affected Eritrean refugees.

The EPDP memo, which was copied to the government of the Sudan, concerned EU offices, and the UN Permanent Missions to regional Europe office in Geneva, also called on the international community to make pressure bear on the Sudan not to forcibly hand over the Eritrean refugees to the criminal regime in Eritrea.

This article will address the issue of participation and relations of the civil society associations and political organizations in the struggle from dictatorship to democracy in Eritrea.

The meaning of civil society and political organization in the Eritrean Diaspora is complicated but the scholarly definition of civil society is that,

" an association of people who act between the state and the market. Civil society is an associational sphere between the state and family separated from the state but enjoy autonomy in relation to the state and are formed voluntarily by members of the society to protect their interests and values."

The participation of civil society in the struggle against dictatorship to democracy is an important factor in the struggle for democratization in Eritrea. Civil society is the force that can hold the government and political organizations accountable and is the base upon which a truly democratic culture can be built.

Looking at the Eritrean civil society associations and political organization in Diaspora one can see that the civil associations act as political organizations and contribute to increased ethnic and religious fragmentation and political violence in the camp of the opposition struggling for democracy.

The Eritrean Diaspora struggle from dictatorship to democracy in Eritrea has been a struggle for power between political organizations and civil society associations. The main argument of this article is,

What framework and strategy can we have to increase participation of civil society associations and build a strong working relationships with opposition political organizations?

It is necessary to support and develop societal organizations and strengthen the struggle from dictatorship to democracy increasing the possibilities of a successful transformation to democratic politics in Eritrea. In fact the civil society associations and political organizations in the struggle are interdependent.

Some recent studies show that civil society has played effective role in bringing social and political change and were instrumental in overthrowing dictators( recent Arab Spring) but how about the Eritrean situation? Are we towards playing effective role or weakening each other? Discuss and compare our situation with others.

The Eritrean civil society associations and political organizations flourished in Diaspora but how effective and united are they in their struggle for democracy. The Eritrean Opposition is pluralistic based on ethnic, religious and region if these identities are politicised lead to more conflict than to democracy.( See Studies from IDEA's website) because they lack a framework and strategy of managing this pluralism.

The Eritrean civil society associations and political organizations are similar both in their organizational structure and their operations, thus their constituents are based on kin- and clientelist networks.

The main issue to be discussed is how can both the civil society and political organizations transform from such linkages to programmatic issues. I think this is the main issue to be discussed by the Eritrean scholars and practitioners.

The Eritrean civil society associations should not stand in contrast with the opposition political organizations but complete each other by uniting their efforts promoting democracy and development inside the opposition camp.

Reconstructing the weak Eritrean Opposition

The Eritrean political leadership in the struggle from dictatorship to democracy must come out from their isolated caves and come together and perform political dialogue building a broad united democratic front that can regain the trust of the Eritrean people and get legitimacy both at the national , regional and international level.

The Eritrean civil society associations in the struggle from dictatorship to democracy must also come out of their isolated caves and come together discuss on the misperceived assumption about the relationship between civil society and political organizations now at this time of struggle and after the fall of dictatorship. The civil society associations can make their values and interests from now clear.

I think the focus at this time must be building a united umbrella partnership of all civil society associations locally , regionally and globally.

After reconstructing the political organizations and the civil society associations separately then these two can join and build partnership of cooperation locally, regionally and globally against the dictatorship in Eritrea and lay foundations of democracy in the post-dictatorship Eritrea.

By Zekarias Ginbot

December 20, 2014

Part I

A lot have been said about the atrocities committed by the Eritrean regime and articles with similar content have been published before in this kind of platforms. However, the content of this article might be different in a sense that it is my personal account or reflection of the situation in Eritrea since independence. I am not a politician to give a political analysis about the situation, but like any Eritrean who has suffered under PFDJ (People's Front for Democracy and Justice) leadership for years now, I felt I have to share my experience and my frustration with people who are still naïve or knowingly ignoring the facts. I heard and read a lot when it comes to issues related to my country since I left but did not take the initiative to write about what I felt. I admit that I was also one of those people who believed in patience and making sacrifice for a better future Eritrea. Many Eritreans still have these kinds of thoughts. But the Eritrean authorities continued to misinterpret patience as if the Eritrean people do not know what is possible and what could be achieved under the circumstances. PFDJ continued to hold the people as hostages for the last 25 years using different pretexts.

In 1989, when the Eritrean struggle against Ethiopian occupation gained the upper hand in the war front lines, a group of us, high school students at the time, came around an elderly man whom we thought did not support Eritrean independence and bullied and made fun of him, telling him that the country was to be freed soon. He explained to us that he was not against independence but was skeptical of the leadership and ideology of ‘Shaebia (the name the liberation fighters were identified with)’ for post war Eritrea. Today, when I see the current situation of our country, I consider that elderly man a prophet, may his soul rest in peace. No one disputes the sacrifice paid for independence and no Eritrean regrets playing his or her part in the process. The dissatisfaction came later when PFDJ failed to fulfil the promise.

The Eritrean people celebrated independence and continued to make an immense sacrifice for a better future. But everything the ruling party, PFDJ, which is the only authority in the country, did in post-independence was sarcasm, lies and intimidation. Pre-independence, nationalism and patriotism was so high and people were not even able to see some of the evil tendencies of the PFDJ leadership. Parents who lost some or all of their sons and daughters in the war and children who were left alone wanted no sympathy from anyone. Every Eritrean was proud of what has been achieved after such a long and bitter war for independence. However, what followed after a couple of years post-independence was far from what was dreamed of. The leadership which lead the war for independence and in power today, immediately started to blame the people for being spoiled and for expecting more. Today, to the credit of PFDJ, Eritrean nationalism and patriotism has fallen to its lowest level.

The authoritarian policies and communist ideology of PFDJ started to be noticed when they started to introduce the student summer campaign and the national service programs (both in 1994). Both these programs would have been for the good of the nation if there was a good intention at heart and good management. But both programs were introduced without any public discussion, planning or concern for traditions and culture. High school students and their teachers across the country were required to report to designated stations after the completion of the academic year and perform land rehabilitation activities. But parents, especially in the country side, wanted their school children to help with farming during summer vacation, and those in the urban areas to work and get some income to contribute in covering the next-year’s school expenses. Others were not happy to let their young daughters go away due to traditional ramifications and the consequences later in their lives. The authorities refused to address these concerns or entertain alternative measures; or create an environment for public discussion. The program itself was mismanaged and did not leave any meaningful and measurable trace of improvement on the ground.

The national service project was also mismanaged and was not as effective as it should have been. It was started by a decree without proper planning, and as it is true for any government run program in Eritrea, it did not have a proper oversight. Military training requires mental health, preparedness and physical strength and not every young person is born fit. It requires basic facilities and qualified personnel to deal with all kinds of issues. There was no preparedness of any type except arranging the transport when the first batch of thousands of trainees arrived in a place called Sawa which was to become the center for military training for the years to follow. The manner in which the program was handled at the beginning was in the same manner as was the case during war for the liberation of the country. But that was a different setting; why do we need to make it so difficult when we can afford to provide modern training?

I admit lots of changes have been made since then on the ground in Sawa but the mind-set of the people who manage the program did not change. The commanders can do anything they want. Many young lives were lost because their health issues were not attended by professional personnel. Health complaints were always seen by military commanders as excuses to evade national service. Many young people who could not perform well or commit minor crimes were inhumanly treated and some of them died in the process. I could give personal accounts of the events I witnessed during my short stay in the program. Many parents whose sons and daughters ran away to avoid national service were incarcerated and forced to pay a ransom of 50,000 Nakfa per evader, which is a huge money on the country’s standards. Even individual families who were terribly affected by the death of many of their family members (or one or both parents) in the war for the independence of the country were not spared. It is true that the punishment for refusing to participate in the national service was not consistently implemented over the whole country and it was not known whether it was a national policy or it was up to the discretion of the local government officials.

National service is not unique to Eritrea. It is practiced in many nations around the world but unlike in Eritrea, it has a time limit. In Eritrea it was supposed to play a vital role in nation building and contribute meaningfully to the economy of the country. But the program costed the country millions to build the infrastructure required for it and to run it year after year. Members of the national service were kept moving stone from one place to another and building temporary shelters wherever they move. However, the contribution of this generation in the Ethio-Eritrean border war should not be belittled. The bravery and sacrifice made by this generation was not any less than the heroic struggle made for independence of the country by the previous generations. They played a major role in saving the country from falling into the hands of PFDJ’s counter parts in Ethiopia. But national service has become non-ending, modern slavery. Thousands of young people have lost their precious time in the military being abused without any hope for the future. The young people who were enlisted in the national service in 1994 or in the years followed are now middle aged. Many of them are married and have children but they do not have salary to support their own families let alone their aging parents. They lost hope because they don’t see any way out or a way forward. The young and school-age people see this as their own destiny, too. They do not get any motivation to complete high school; after all they will end up in the military anyway. They also hear and see some young people who made it to overseas destinations send money and help their families left behind. Their situation is so desperate that they do not even pay attention to the number of people who are killed by Eritrean border guards while trying to cross the border or drowned in the Mediterranean waters or killed by smugglers.

It is outrageous to hear PFDJ leaders in Eritrea to blame other imaginary forces for involvement in fleeing of young people from the country. They also sometimes call them tourists and other times traitors. For God’s sake these are the young people who stood beside their older brothers and bravely defended the country from reoccupation by Ethiopia. If anyone is in doubt of these, go to the refugee reception centers in European countries or find recently resettled Eritreans and get your story right. The same is true in the refugee centers in Sudan, Ethiopia and elsewhere. After the bitter border war with Ethiopia and the tragedy that happened to Eritreans living in Ethiopia at the time, no one would imagine going to Ethiopia. But thousands of young people are fleeing into Ethiopia despite the shoot-to-kill policy of the Eritrean authorities, and obviously many die trying to cross the border. So, this should help those who are still naïve to understand the degree of desperation in Eritrea today. But no one can give a prescription to others who choose to ignore facts.

But why is this small group of PFDJ leadership not interested to listen to the grievances of the people and so obsessed with maintaining power? By the way, the Eritrean people did not demand a handover of power. What the people asked for was for a rule of law to be established, for the constitution to be implemented and for the military service to have a limit, just to mention some. They have jailed (without trial) comrades-in-arms who proposed alternative ways of dealing with issues. Is it possible that this small group of people is scared of what might happen if power slips away from them? They should have remembered that the Eritrean people have even forgiven the atrocities committed by Ethiopia. I remember the famous statement made by the late Ethiopian prime minister during his visit to Eritrea before relations went sour; “We should not scratch each other’s wounds”, but by then the Eritrean people have already forgiven the atrocities committed in Eritrea by Ethiopians. By the way, that same Ethiopian leader later forgot what he preached when he caused lots of suffering to the Eritreans who lived in Ethiopia when the border war started.

I am now in my middle age and I believe I represent the generation who joined the Eritrean war for independence in its final stages and became the major force (through national service) that fought later against Ethiopia in the border war. Back in 1984, I was among many youngsters who were rounded up and taken from the villages by Eritrean liberation forces to become a fighter but then sent back home as they concluded that I was too young to carry a gun. I then went to school and 14 years later, I did a one year national service as a school teacher. When the border war with Ethiopia started in 1998, I was in the final year of my undergraduate program at the University of Asmara. We, the students, volunteered to go to the war front lines to help. I, with a group of fellow students, was assigned to the Senafe area and played our part. A year later, I was again asked to do a national service that included the military training, the infamous, indefinite and now identified as modern day slavery by many. Despite the fact that I had already served for more than a year before, I had to go and after 10 months in the military, I somehow managed to come back to the University where I started a third year national service as a graduate assistant.

I stayed in the national service for a total of 3 years but those who were enlisted before me and in the years that followed are still under those extraordinary tough conditions. This is to mean that the facts I describe here are common to thousands of Eritreans of different ages. The time I spent in the national service first as a military trainee and then on breaking and collecting stones and woods was traumatizing. It was not only the hardship but also the fact that we did not see what we were doing as something important or we believed that it could have been done differently. All the shelters we built did not survive another year, it was just an environmental disaster. For me, the objective seems to make the Eritrean youth submissive and obedient through hardship, intimidation and military indoctrination. One of the methods used by the military leaders to achieve this is recording the identity of anyone who asks questions in meetings. Then this is followed by a private warning and then if these people commit minor offences, they are subjected to all the hardships. This might be the likely reason why we do not see many incidences of revolt in the Eritrean military despite the ill-treatment and abuse.

My first escape from the military was not far enough; it was coming back to the University and continue the national service without salary. To put it in exact context, I was getting paid 250 Nakfa a month in Asmara in the year 2000 when a single meal in a cheap restaurant was 50 Nakfa and a 3x3m2 room was about 300 Nakfa. This might have been a better option than in the military for those who had relatives in Asmara to stay with but not for me. I was going to the student cafeteria when they left to beg for a meal and then we meet in class later. This might not seem bad in a different context, but in Eritrea, a teacher was respected and had a different status in the society. My situation was not inspiring to the students either. At one stage, I decided to ask the University’s president, Dr Woldeab Yishak, to make some kind of arrangement so that I could carry out my duties at the university. I had to wait at the stairs for an hour to stop him as he told his secretary not to keep appointments. But his response was demoralizing. He told me that I could go back to the military if I chose to do so without even waiting for me to finish my question. Going back to the military was not a better option to consider and I had to make a private arrangement with the cafeteria staff to get a meal. I found the cafeteria staff better understanding than Dr Woldeab.

……..part II will follow.

Peace and Prosperity to the Eritrean people!!

The Stockholm and environs branch of the Eritrean People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) on Sunday 21 December 2014 held a meeting with Mr. Woldeyesus Ammar, head for foreign relations office of the party, and received a wide-ranging updating on current developments affecting Eritrea and its people.

The topics covered in the updating included the worsening condition inside the country manifested by the frightening displacement of the people; the “refugee fatigue” of countries like Denmark, Italy and the rest of the EU member states and their search for excuses to deny legal protection to Eritrean refugees; EPDP diplomatic efforts and their outcome so far, and the still fragmented situation of the opposition camp and prospects of creating a viable opposition to the dictatorial regime in Asmara.

EPDP Stockholm Branch

The EPDP leadership member stated that the dictatorial regime will never be expected to change its old erroneous and harmful ways and that the political and human rights situation has no prospect of improving until a real change is effected on time. He said the ever increasing outflow of young refugees from the country is the worst occurrence that Eritrean patriots worth the name should stand together and find a solution before it gets too late.

He noted that the recent visits to Eritrea by a number of European delegations looking for ways of re-establishing “relations” with the criminal regime at the cost of the affected people are acts of desperation at the international level that must be firmly opposed by forces struggling for democracy and human rights anywhere in the world. He added that the latest expression of support to and solidarity with the Eritrean people by the Council of Non-Governmental Organizations in the 15-member states of the Southern African Development Community is an encouraging recent development that deserves the full attention of all Eritreans struggling for positive and timely change in the country.

Regarding the state of affairs in the opposition camp, Mr. W. Ammar said the concerned forces are aware of their past shortcomings and that they are currently considering to come out of their “old boxes” and engage in joint tasks that can give hope to the people inside the homeland.

Later in the day, the EPDP executive committee member was interviewed by Voice of the People television broadcast every week for the inhabitants of Stockholm and its environs. The interview covered party activities, including the recent mission to Southern Africa, the plight of Eritrean refugees and prospects for working alliances in the camp opposed to the dictatorial regime in Asmara.

Court in Argentina grants basic rights to orangutan

An Orang-utan named Sandra, covered with a blanket, gestures inside its cage at Buenos Aires

Sandra covers her head with a cloth to protect herself from the public gaze at the Buenos Aires Zoo

A court in Argentina has ruled that a shy orangutan who spent the last 20 years in a zoo can be granted some legal rights enjoyed by humans.

Lawyers had appealed to free Sandra from the Buenos Aires zoo by arguing that although not human, she should be given legal rights.

They had argued that she was being illegally detained.

If there is no appeal, the ape will be transferred to a sanctuary in Brazil where she will enjoy greater freedom.

The singular case hung on whether the animal was a "thing" or a "person".

In December a New York State court threw out a request to free a privately owned chimpanzee arguing that the animal was property and had no legal rights.

'A person'

Lawyers for Argentina's Association of Professional Lawyers for Animal Rights (Afada) said Sandra was "a person" in the philosophical, not biological, sense.

She was, they argued, in a situation of illegal deprivation of freedom as a "non-human person".

They had filed a "habeas corpus" writ in her favour last November over "the unjustified confinement of an animal with probable cognitive capability".

Afada lawyer Paul Buompadre was quoted as saying by La Nacion newspaper: "This opens the way not only for other Great Apes, but also for other sentient beings which are unfairly and arbitrarily deprived of their liberty in zoos, circuses, water parks and scientific laboratories."

The court judges had rejected the writ several times before deciding finally that Sandra could be considered to have rights to freedom which needed defending.

Sandra was born in 1986 in a German zoo and arrived in Buenos Aires in September 1994.

She regularly tried to avoid the public in her enclosure.

If there is no appeal against the court's decision from the Buenos Aires zoo, she will be transferred to a primate sanctuary in Brazil where she can live in partial liberty.

Omar Jaber: May His Soul Rest in Peace

Sunday, 21 December 2014 06:57 Written by

It was a few hours after my arrival in Sweden for a memorial service of another dear old friend that I learned the unexpected martyrdom of Comrade-in-Long-Stretched-Struggle Omar Jaber in the late evening of 19 December 2014. I have all the inconveniences with internet connection and time that one can encounter while on travel, and I will not be able to write a deserved obituary to this brilliant example of Eritrea’s memorable generation that is now in the process of passing away without fulfilling its noble mission.  Instead, I am sending for reposting my article about Omar that appeared in the internet a little over nine years ago following a visit to Australia with  another heroic freedom fighter, Seyoum Ogbamichael, who was martyred nine years ago this 17 December.

Deep sympathies and condolences to his widow, Dr. Melika Yassin Sheikh-a-Din, his children with the rest of the family and friends in struggle. May his soul rest in peace.

 

A Memorable Conversation with Omar Jabir In Melbourne 

By Woldeyesus Ammar (August 4, 2005)

To my viewpoint,  Omar Jabir Omar, a veteran ELF freedom fighter now in Australia, represents, in one go, a combination of many things in a contemporary Eritrean in exile - contemporary here mainly meaning the generations that bore the brunt of national awakening and struggle for Eritrea’s national independence.

First: Omar Jabir is a good representative of the passionately nationalist Eritrean youth of the 1960s and  the 1970s who studied in the Middle East and played a vital role in building the Eritrean national liberation struggle – but, alas, only to be betrayed wholesale in liberated Eritrea.

Second: He suitably symbolizes Eritrea’s leftist revolutionary generation that worked under nascent (now defunct) Eritrean parties of the left: LP or the Labour Party within the ELF,  and EPRP or the Eritrean People’s Revolutionary Party within the EPLF.

Third: Omar Jabir is a good example of independent Eritrea’s self-inflicted brain drain that unfolded as a result of a well designed social engineering of Isayas Afeworki’s exclusionist and evil policies commencing with his “Hashewiye Wudibat” of 20 June 1991 that eventually succeeded to keep at bay literally all of Eritrea’s intellectuals, especially those with advanced knowledge of and qualifications in the Arabic language.

Fourth: He symbolizes the failure of PFDJ’s Eritrea to reconcile even with those who were willing to go an extra mile to make reconciliation happen after 1991. (The listing of such symbolisms of Omar and his generation with the situation of contemporary Eritrea  would prove endless.)

During June 2005, I had the opportunity of meeting several times with Omar Jabir in Melbourne where he took residence with his family since 1995. He works for an employment agency while providing voluntary services as president of the 30,000-strong Horn of Africa Community in Australia (refer to a previous article in Nharnet, Awna, Alnahda and Farajat about  ‘Eritreans in Faraway Australia’.)

In our chitchats,  Omar and I talked on a variety of topics and events of the  past, the present and the future. In particular, we enjoyed our exchange of ‘ancient’ notes about Eritrean student militancy inside and outside the homeland. I noted to Omar that I may write down for the benefit of other readers some specified parts of our talk. And he, a trained journalist himself, had no objection to whatever I wished to select for writing and posting in Eritrean websites from the conversation that went on and on - well spiced by his command of linguistic nuances in Arabic, English, Tigre and Tigrinia. 

As many readers may recall, Omar Jabir has been a constant contributor of articles in Arabic and English to the Eritrean websites. His present-day stance regarding the regime in Asmara, his ideas on democratisation, national unity, reconciliation, and the basic requirements for coexistence and stable future in Eritrea are well known to many people. Therefore, I will not bore readers by trying to repeat them here. Instead, I will concentrate on a few historical events and experiences, some of them told in the form of anecdotes. But, first a few notes about the man.

Omar Jabir: A short profile

Born in 1945 in Ali Ghidir near Tessenei where he completed his elementary and middle school grades, Omar Jabir pursued his secondary school classes in a boarding school in Port Sudan, and one year in Khartoum. He completed grade 12 by 1962. During the later part of 1960s and early 1970s, he was a university student in Baghdad but could not obtain all of his medical credentials mainly because of his decision not to become a member of the Ba’ath Party in Iraq.  As indicated below, he was one of the key players in the student movement in the Middle East. In later years, he served as a senior cadre of the ELF during the entire 1970s in the fields of student and youth affairs, information and diplomacy. In 1982, he supported the ELF faction that staged  a coup d’etat (for others known as “an uprising”) within the organization. After liberation in 1991, he took another controversial decision by going back to Eritrea while it was under an exclusionist regime that banned all patriotic forces that took part in the liberation struggle.

***

 Interview with Omar Jabir

Question:  Omar, I assume you started politics early in your life. When was that and what particular events do you still remember?

Answer: I started involvement in politics from my early teenage years. In fact I was born in politics. My family and the small Ali Ghidir community in general were among the strong cells of the Independence Bloc and later on of the Eritrean Liberation Movement (Haraka/ELM) and the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF). I was with the Haraka cells by 1959-60 in Port Sudan where the movement was founded. I then switched to the ELF when it became operational. At the age of 20, I already was a member of the Revolutionary Command in Kassala when it was formed and took charge of security matters. In fact I was one of the ELF people in Kassala who arranged the fateful trip to Asmara for your classmates Seyoum Ogbamichael and Woldedawit Temesghen in August 1965. They were assigned to re-organize ELF cells in the Eritrean capital but, unfortunately, they were betrayed by Mulugeta Gherghis, one of us in Kassala who deserted soon after their departure and had them apprehended by the Ethiopian authorities.  By the end of that year [1965], I went to Baghdad for higher studies. I was there throughout the latter part of the 1960s and early 1970s as a student leader.

Question: We know that the student union in Baghdad that you chaired was instrumental in the formation in December 1968 of the General Union of Eritrean Students (GUES). Who else was with you in the leadership of GUES in the Middle East?

Answer: The student union in Baghdad was among the most dynamic groups in the Middle East. Among my colleagues in the leadership of the student movement from  Baghdad Osman Humed, Mohammed Ali Idris,  Mohammed Sheikh Abdu Jelil and Hassan Debesai. Union leaders from Cairo were Abdalla Omar Nasser, Siraj Mussa Abdu, Omar M. Suleiman and others. From Europe were Beshir Saeed, Woldu Kahsai, Idris Nur Hussein and others. It was with the student unions in Damascus, Cairo and in Europe that we formed the GUES.

Question: What roles did GUES play in the nationalist struggle?

Answer: GUES became a full-fledged member of the International Union of Students (IUS) in Prague and helped introduce the Eritrean cause to international organizations of the day. That was a very important achievement. The other role effectively played by us in GUES was the national service. We all were committed to spend one year serving in the field with the ELF before completing our studies. Besides learning more for themselves, the young service students carried with them knowledge, enlightenment and many modern ideas to the fighters and to the rural people inside Eritrea.  It was through that well thought national service that more and more new blood was injected in the liberation struggle. GUES’s national service programme was continued  till 1977.

Question: AndnaturallyGUES had its share of student martyrs.

Answer:  Yes, the first GUES martyr was my elder brother Yahya Jabir, a medical student from Europe who was martyred on 31 August 1973. That date was being annually marked as the Eritrean Student Martyrs’ Day by GUES. Other students from Europe who were martyred while on service  included  Fitsum Ghebreselassie, Aregai Habtu,  and Abdulgader Idris from Khartoum University. 

Question: Did the Arab regimes of the day create interferences in Eritrean student affairs during those years?

Answer:  There were many interferences. For example, I was barred for two years from entering Cairo by the authorities who listened to framed up ELF-PLF allegations against the mainstream GUES of the ELF (Revolutionary Council). The ELF-PLF headed by Osman Saleh Sabbe created their own GUES and gave us hard time although their union did not have any international dimension or weight.  In later years, the Baathists also formed their own Eritrean student union in Baghdad and planted many hurdles against our organization.

Question: Can you recall any memorable event(s) that you experienced during those student days?

Answer: Oh! yes, many interesting happenings, some of them shocking. One experience was an extremely embarrassing and shameful Munich meeting of Eritrean students and workers in Europe in the summer of 1970. I was on a visit to Germany that time and attended the meeting as observer. I vividly remember the poisoned atmosphere at the meeting in which a recorded speech of Woldeab Woldemariam was played. In it, Woldeab spoke against the General Command of the ELF (Kiyada Ama). I was forced to present my speech in  English because Arabic as language was banned at the meeting. Idris Badume [presently residing in Sweden] begged to speak in Arabic because his mother tongue, Kunama, had no single listener at the meeting and that he did not have strong command of any other language except Arabic. The majority of the meeting participants said no Arabic should be allowed at the meeting. He thus chose to walkout of the meeting.

Another more embarrassing and quite incredible incident at the same Munich meeting was the threat to kill. Some meeting participants looked  decided to kill Petros Kidane of Halhal!! The blunt language used was, “You are from Halhal who are with Kiyada Ama. Your people killed Kidane Kiflu and Woldai Ghidey in Kassala. We will kill you today, and there will not be any mercy!” We were afraid that he was in danger; his friends helped him escape back to Berlin within hours of the threat. I  believed that they meant to kill him. It was shameful. GUES members like Fitsum Ghebreselassie, who was chairing the meeting, Aregai Habtu, Habte Tesfamariam, Embaye ..... and a few others were insulted and attacked for being  “stooges of Kiyada Ama”. Herui Tedla Bairu also attended the Munich meeting that can still be a measure of show how low national awareness was among many Eritreans 30+ years ago. But frankly speaking some of the participants could have done better than what they actually did at that meeting of shame in Munich .The anti-ELF elements held their second meeting in Nuremberg in August 1971 and supported the split of PLF from the ELF.

Question: And what about left politics of students of that age? Weren’t you part of the leftist movement?

Answer:  Of course we were espousing leftist slogans of the day. Many of us were co-opted into the Labour Party of the ELF. The LP gradually took upper hand in Kiyada Ama and it was the party that organized the First ELF Congress in 1971 and formulated a national democratic programme. It is my conviction that everything good that had been done in the ELF was done by the LP. In its initial stage, the LP recruited and trained the best cadres for the liberation struggle. However, problems were created later on when the ELF leadership took power both in the front and in the party; power struggle between two ambitious politicians, Ibrahim Toteel and Abdalla Idris, flared up. This was disastrous. Azien Yassin, who was the LP Secretary  General in 1976 was replaced because of the power struggle in the front and this power struggle finally weakened the ELF and contributed to its demise as a military force.

Question: Many thanks, Omar, for your comments about the roles of GUES and LP in the growth of the ELF. Let me now ask you about two issues that pop up in discussions among old ELF comrades. These concern what we call the coup d’etat within the ELF in 1982 that you supported and then your return to Eritrea after liberation.  What are your comments?

Answer: First about the event at Rasai. Was that event in 1982 a coup d’etat? I say ‘YES’, it was a coup d’etat.  In fact, I wrote this opinion in the ELF’ magazine, ‘The Revolution’,immediately after that event took place. But was that coup d’etat anti-democratic and was it conducted against a democratically elected leadership? My response was and is ‘NO’ for the following contextual reasons that connect it with the facts on the ground at that period. In fact the coup d’etat was the last resort taken to curb a series of wrongdoings and accumulation of leadership errors that gradually suffocated the organization to its deathbed. The Executive Committee (EC) that was elected after the 1975 Second Congress of the ELF became an absolutely autocratic power that froze the roles of other institutions and bodies in the organization.  This particular EC refused [for three years] the holding of regular meetings of the Revolutionary Council. The EC controlled the mass organizations; created its own GUES and ignored the joint historic memorandum of  mass organizations that told  everything. Then came the collapse [in the hands of the EPLF/TPLF armies]  and we crossed the border to the Sudan – leadership divided and cadres pushing for change in the EC. But how?  Leading cadres were advocating the holding of an emergency military conference that would exclude civilians and ELF branches in the Middle East.  The final blow was the Sudanese action of confiscation of arms and then the threat of  taking everybody from Tahdai and Korokon to refugee camps.  The bottle was already broken – pieces left were just remainders of a legendary ELF that was targeted not only by EPLF and the Sudan but also betrayed by its leadership. I am not saying that the 25 March [1982 event] was a saving step for the whole organization but it was an initiative by one of those scattered pieces.

Question: And the second issue - do you regret having returned to Eritrea after 1991?

Answer: I never regret having gone to Asmara [after liberation]. To start with, I am an Eritrean citizen and going back home is a natural step. Secondly, I went with a vision, principles and values and came back with them all without any change! Thirdly, I learned new experience, new facts and tangible evidences about the theoretical concept I used to have about EPLF. The fourth reason that I do not regret having gone to Asmara is that I did not go to serve the regime but I went with the idea of living as an ordinary Eritrean. My real dream was to settle in my village of origin and work in the family farm or to have a library for the new generation.

Question: Now, let us envision about a future viable governing party in Eritrea in the post-PFDJ period that can give Eritrea last peace and stability. What forces can realize this hope?

Answer: I can say that the present opposition groups can play a role in shaping such a party. In addition, the outcome of the governing party (PFDJ) after the expected change will tell what sort of a political formula we might have for Eritrea. To sum, future developments and interaction between different forces will decide the shape and content of such a party.

Thanks a lot.

End

 (PS: At the last meeting with Omar, we encouraged each other to put in record the activities of the Eritrean student movement:  he for what took place in the Middle East and I for what was done inside Eritrea.  Each one of us said he would try.)