|Memories of a fighter 1969-70
By Aida Kidane, posted on 13 May 2004
Narration of Tesfamariam Assefaw ca 50 years old. Told to me in Gottsunda,
Uppsala Sweden at his home 4 September 2000 ca 20:00 at his balcony.
He had earlier told me his story but as always it is interesting, but
I tend to forget that it is better to write down what I could remember and
we have agreed to have his story in audio recording.
... I told Haile Duru in Addis that the EPLF had ceded from Jebha. I went to
the university of Addis Abeba at 6am and we had scrambled eggs there, when I
told him of the situation in the field.
I was always with Selomon Welde Mariam in Ala. Once 50,000 birr was given
to us which I carried to Selomon. It was contribution from the people.
We were fed with fresh bread from Dekemehare and Pall Mall cigarettes,
which for that time was a treat. Selomon met Ethiopian soldiers and no
Ethiopian soldiers made any advance in Ala area, as Asrate Kassa had
understanding with Selomon. But we stupidly were killing each other for
Ethiopia's advantage... Tesfamikel Giorgio, who had position in Ethiopian
government in early age gave us all we needed, acting as liaison. Selomon
went to Bar Centro in Dekemehare meeting Ethiopian officials.
Welde Mikel Haile was the first Jebha to flee away and came to Selomon.
He was educated in Syria and came through Yemen. He was to be killed in
Yemen and given to the Jebha in Denkel. He was given the choice to fight
then he escaped and came to Ala. He did not like Issayas.
Issayas once said " Struggle is honey covered Ire" (sour) and then ran
away from Jebha.
Selomon was then told by the then Jebha, as he was a member of them, to
unite the fedayeen of all 5 units, reshuffling them. But then, Ermias
Debessai and all 108 from Addis had come and he wanted them than the
ordinary fadeen who were mostly peasants. Then it was known that all of us
108 were to be killed. So we sent Ermias first to play sick. We made him
fall in the ground supposedly in pain. He was not good at acting that I
pressed his face with my knees telling him to pretend he had fainted. Next
was Tsehaye's turn but he gave me place first and I claimed to have
homoroid. Only 3 of the 108 were not killed. I went to the official he sent
me to Keyadial Amma, in Barka. They sent me to hospital. Those days, no
Muslim cared to look at anyone's behind that claiming haemorrhoid helped.
But after sickbay the medic wanted to see my faeces, I thought about it and
asked a peasant to give me blood of an animal, and put my faeces on it and
the medic felt sorry for me that I was given paper to travel to Sudan.
I was not given the travel paper but two Muslim men, one a Asawerta. When we
reached Debre Sala, they were smearing their swords. This really scared me
deeply. I was sure my end was there. I walked painfully, feigning the
haemorrhoid. As I gave up, a man called Redie came our way. He came from
Syria after training going to enter the field. When he said his name was
Redie, I was very delighted he was a Christian and told him everything. He
got shocked and decided then to travel with me. We two decided to flee the
men and walking slowly they went ca 10 minutes advancing. We then vanished
and travelled for ca 24 hours, but returning to the same spot. Anyway we
entered Sudan. Redie had money that we took the lorry to Kessela with goats
kicking me on the lorry.
I went to the Jebha office and was given only one girish (10 cents)
daily for food. After 2 weeks, I met Dej Asberom from Afelba and he gave me
a lot of money, after I presented myself to him. He hated Muslims too that I
could vent my hatred out. He was with Sabbe.
Time came to travel and we, with Musie Bekhit, Selomon, Hagos Mesfin
and others, only Christians flew to Aden, Yemen. There in the military camp
were 700 ELF fighters all Muslim from Maria and Massawa tribes.
The allowance Sabbe gave was misused by Massawans and we were almost
starving. As I was forward talking, I asked Welde Ab Welde Mariam for money
when he came to visit us. He said that even his escort who carried a bag did
not have money. W Ab gathered all of us and told us his story. He was in
Massawa and asked a boatman to take him to Dahlak. The boat man, Ali started
rowing. Slowly they talked of the current politics. The man said his rows
were the solution. One row had Christian written on it and the other Islam.
He said if you row only the Muslim, and showed too, the boat circled only to
the left, then the Christian, it circled only to the right. When rowing
both, they could reach Dahlak. So this is the only solution to our problem
said Ali the boat man. When W Ab told us this I wept because it touched me,
from my Muslim hatred getting less. W Ab had very large hand, compared to
In Aden, we came from the camp to town and begged for more money. Then we were forced to steal the money of the office, the kazna.( Then to another
In Kessela, two of Issayas friends, Kidane Dagnew and Tewelde were
wanted because Issayas had fled. They were secluded. But one day a friend
invited them to his wedding and they went there. As they entered the
compound, they were seized. Tewelde was huge and struggled. They shut him
inside a room and stabbed him about 30 times that he died there. Kidane?s
hand were tied and a taxi called, to take them to Haffera, inside Eritrea, a
torture centre. Since Tewelde was dead, they wrapped him in a mat, tenkobet
and as the taxi went, his corpse fell out. A milk seller saw this, as it was
night, and shouted to them. When the fadeen went out of the taxi to pick it,
Kidane with tied hand went out and ran. They left the body and coming to
Kidane, they shot him at the forehead and run away, leaving both corpses on
the ground. The taxi driver, Amin too ran away.
The milk seller called the police. He told on Amin. All taxis were
checked and blood found on Amin?s taxi. Three fedayeens were caught and
sentenced for 3 years. But later were freed for political reasons.......Ends
now 4.9.00. A k
Story of Tess, direct from audio recording.
My name is Tess, born in Segeneiti town and at age 5 moved to Deke Mehari
town growing up there, and went to both Habesha and Italian schools. Then we
moved to Asmera and I went to Botego school. In 1963 I went to Imba Tekalla
town to the Capuchins in order to become a priest. It did not suit me and
after a year, I left priesthood school and continued my studies and in 1969,
I went to join the liberation movement.
Q. Why did you want to join the movement?
I was living in the Kidane Mihret area in Asmera. There, 2-3 years older
boys were telling us of Eritrea's oppression. They are now in the leading
party of Eritrea. That time, we swallowed all story, whether true or not, we
started having love for motherland. As I grew up in Deke Mehari town I
visited it from Asmera and we heard rumours of fighters in Ala area.
I and a friend of mine decided to join the fighters, and went to
them to Ala. The fighters we met there were Abraham Tewelde, Welde Mikel
Haile, Berakhi son of Negussie Iqubit alias Wedi Fenkil, and Selomon Welde
Mariam. After being with them for 4-5 days, they sent us back to Asmera in a
mission. Two men were exposed their papers being found out and we were sent
to take them out. They were studying at the Asmera University, Kesete and
Mekonnen. We told them of the situation. Now Mekonnen resides in Addis Abeba and I hear he is doing well. And Kesete is in the States, now in year 2000.
After we told them I do not know if they fled or not.
We were also sent to Ato Abraha Segid who gave us a music cassette to the
field. Then we met a person Wedi Hakin. We told him we want to go back to
the field. But being Ramadan fasting time he was not eager to go right then.
So after having shopped for essentials like netsela blanket etc and having
told the two of their being revealed and the cassette from the singer, we
entered the field in Ala.
There, I did not know Abraham well. He was living with a woman, and I saw
him sitting, covered in a netsela. I did not see him in military outfit
ever. His name was very famous for bravery. But I really undermined him
seeing him like that, because our fantasy of a fighter was like a cowboy
rolling his guns around haaaa.
Then, Selomon told us we were to travel to Kyad-al- Ama, to a village
called Mechlil, situated between Keren and Akhordet. It was my first time to
travel away, growing up in towns. We were carrying 50 thousand birr,
contributions from civilians. Civilians gave a birr each to the cause.
Selomon was in charge of collecting money. Villages collect money themselves
and while passing by we are given the money. It was good times and the
country was green and people had money. Meat was so abundant that we often
had direhea with too much meat, but not enough bread. This is 1969.
So, I, Selomon, Wedi Fenkil and Bereket Mikel a Mensa man, started
walking journey. There were no other means of transportation than walking,
no cars or mules. That night we had dinner in Ginda, meeting other fighters.
We spent the night on road between Ginda and Imba Tikella, on the road above
a railway. And in front of us was the Radio Marina station of the navy
That evening, our meal was brought from Aboi Yosef restaurant, my present
wife's father, bringing us Injera since we had earlier sent message.
Civilians were very much collaborating with us. When passing by villages,
the people came out and shrilled lilili, for joy of us. The movement was a
new phenomena. We were the ELF as the EPLF was not known then. We spent the next night at Mehlab, at General Zere Mariam's home which was being built
and we slaughtered a lamb there, just to irritate him. But someone had lied
on us to the government. We had moved to Geleb to feign enemy but the
commandos came on us. The commandos chased us all the way to Barka. We too
As Selomon is our leader we follow him and a leader tells where to go.
Then the road we met Issayas. He was thin and wore a Cuba hat. With him were
Tewelde Iyob, Issayas wedi Finansa or Issayas the little, and another dark
man perhaps called Gerezghier. Selomon and Issayas talked a lot inside a
hut, as we slept outside as guards. We do not know what the two talked
about. Issayas looked at us when departing. He was of the Kyada-al-ama then,
one of the 38 leaders.
He said something I have not forgotten "our struggle is an acid (ire)
covered with honey". We did not understand what he meant. We were happy
people then being fighters to liberate our country, feeling all our brothers
were with us. If I should meet Issayas any time, I want to ask him why he
said that meaning at that time. When we departed and separated, Issayas
fled. He was fleeing from Jebha to Ala and we went vice versa.
Then was a Fertekha or mingling of Fedayeen from all 5 units,
and Jebha became one unit. We were there 3-4 days in this regrouping. We
started training which to our surprise was in Arabic. We had no knowledge of
Arabic, and besides coming from the Kebasa, one gets shocked of the
language. I asked Selomon why they trained in Arabic and he said that I
should ask them. One can get killed for asking that. So I asked one and he
said that the trainers were taught in Syria, Irak etc, and to make me happy,
he changed the training to Tigrina. I became happy and Selomon was
extremely pleased having succeeded doing his wish. I was his soldier. Had he
ordered me to kill, I would have obeyed.
Then Selomon was promoted to leader of Fadeyeens. I was very glad that my
leader was promoted. But Selomon refused to this promotion. He insisted to
be given the new batch of trainees from Addis who were in Barka now, to be
given to him. He proposed that the fadeeyens already there were useless in
cities and towns, good only inside the fields or rural areas. He wanted the
Addis batch to be trained to him. But this made them suspicious since
Issayas had already fled. Perhaps some persons had leaked out information.
Selomon and Berakhi were taken prisoners and hands tied right in front of
us. They took away my gun and gave me a stick and put me with the Addis
batch. We were not aware the Addis batch were held as hostages. All were
Christians, 108 in number, in three fesila of 35 each and I was added to
them. Selomon was tortured tied on a rope and thrown down to roll as a ball,
pull him up and throw him again. They thought we were in league with
Issayas. They may have got information that Selomon had met Issayas. And
Selomon's asking to be given the Christians must have added their
suspicions, one can add it up later. I knew what was going on and was taken
to another place to the Addis guys. Berakhi wedi Fenkil fled away from
them. He had come from Addis. He was strong and brave he had it all. He is
We the Addis batch were taken somewhere, and I had no idea where we
went as the area was new. The Addis group were as prisoners in Barka. And no
one dared confer to another. Tigrina was completely forbidden to use that
until now I can understand Arabic which I learned then.
There, I met Ermias Debessai in the training centre. He was with the
other fesila. I was glad hearing he was there, because our mothers were in
the same mahber of Kidane Mihret I think. Because of mothers, the children
knew each other. He was of the political side and being a couple of years
older than me, I felt very safe to be with him.
(I talked to Ermias in April 2003 and told him a "Panino" had told me about
those times. Ermias was surprised and said, "You meant Tesfa Mariam? He had
more than his share of suffering. I have always thought of him for 30 years."
I had been imprisoned a couple of times and freed earlier. One incident was
that we carry the flag along with our sticks. In high sun, the flag is put
inside house and we in the sun. I became angry and hit the flag with a stone
saying this is our trouble. I was obvious seen and as punishment told to
stand long in the sun. The sun from my front came to my back side. I was
told to turn to face the sun, which I refused to do so. My supervisor hit me
with his gun, an M1. I took the gun from him and hit him back, because he
was going to kill me with his bayonet. His name is Arun. They are peasants,
with no knowledge.
There I was imprisoned and sent to Kyad-al-ama but due to my young age,
was reprimanded and sent back, and I told them the whole truth that I should
be punished for the flag being more important than humans and my punishment
being harsh. It was the blue flag. When the flag stuck thorns, I snatched it
After that, I called sick, for a way to flee away. We had not yet seen
night lights of towns. We had no idea to run right or left, we were
completely unoriented of the area. I mean of the 108 new fighters or
hostages. We see some villages of few huts and we are never told of their
names. The only way out is to pretend to be sick and be sent to the Sudan.
Ermias called sick and fled. The rest of us agreed to be sick in turns.
After Ermias, Tsehaye Fisseha, from Deke Mehari was to be called sick. We
others were to pretend to be in shock, holding him from dying in our hand,
though he was completely healthy.
But Tsehaye could not pretend and said if I "Panino" would try first. My
nickname was Panino. It was a risky try. I agreed to try first. If I was
sick of stomach, we were given a quinine called Humbub. Any tablet with nice
colour was easily accepted even thought as vitamin. One accepted tablets
even if it was poison. We carried tablets with us too. If one is suddenly
sick in stomach or head, he asks from others, feeling it is temporary pain.
One takes the pill with hope and it works.
One sickness one can forge, which the Moslems did not like to examine,
was haemorrhoid, they did not like to look under the waist we had become
aware of. I pretended to walk in pains, using a stick as lead. In time to
march, I walked slow. Since I was with others they could not harm me. If I
was alone, they might just gun me down. If they did in front of the others,
they all may disperse and flee. I went to sick bay, but did not know where,
near Michmillat. It was a moving clinic. If the enemy arrives, we could move
quickly away, even the sick. There the Hakim(doctor) came. He could only
give injection as he was not trained. He asked me my plight and I
volunteered to show him my haemorrhoid, he refusing to see it. He felt
revolted by me and I was saved.
But he was suspicious and said "ya Tusfa, when you have bowel, show it to
me if there is blood in your faeces" I had to agree. But where is the blood
to come from. There were 4 fighters who went away and brought us meat of
wild hogs (mefles) and Agazin, as they were abundant then. One of the
hunters was a Christian as I had recognised him to be one. I conferred with
him all, that I had to give blood to be taken to the Sudan, if he could help
me. He agreed and brought me blood on a can we ate on. So I put my faeces
and spilled the blood on it.
When the medic saw it, he was shocked and wrote me a letter that I was
sent to the kyadal-ama. So I succeeded in this and was allowed to go to the
Sudan. But who will accompany me on the journey, as I did not know the way.
A letter was then written and given to two Assawortas, who held the letter
with them, and written in Arabic, I did not know what it said. To enter
Sudan one was given 60 birr only.
I felt very uneasy. As I was considered sick, these guides may want the
money and kill me. I was thinking a lot about it. I went very slowly,
leaning on my stick. But I was healthy. I could run away from them as I was
young, only 20 years old.
We reached Debre Sala mountain, in Barka region to rest, as there was a
small water stream and we drank of it and rested. The two men took out their
knives and started smearing the knives with fat. I was quiet. They asked if
I would give them a sister. I answered sure, as I could do nothing and my
paper was with them and them being my guides.
The mountain is climbed in evening so we waited since it was too hot
in the sunny daytime. Sitting there, a man called Redie came upon us, to my
saving. He later was martyred on EPLF formation, some say he died of
happiness of seeing Issayas but he must have died in battle. He was a brave
person. He had previously lived in Mekelle but is an Eritrean. Now he came
from Syria having been trained there. When he joined us I felt great hope of
being saved from my guides' knives. When we presented our names, we were
both Christians. I told him frankly they are about to slaughter me and that
they have my paper. They kill people in a place called Haffera, really.
Haffera is in the border to Sudan. I told him all the Christians were
prisoners. He was shocked, and I briefed him of Issayas' fleeing and
Selomon's imprisonment. But he was much politically conscious than me. He
decided to return with me. But our guides plans were shattered as this guest
was amongst us. As all of us were to climb the mountain Debre Sala, they
went ahead of us and I then threw away the stick and we went around a way up
the mountain and fled to the Sudan. Redie had a guide, a man from Massawa
who came from Egypt, studied in a university there. But Redie was our better
So finally we entered Kessela. I was full of lice. The people would not
cut my hair which had become long. So being new to this country, I was
forced to go to the Jebha camp. I told them my paper is soon to come. Redie
could not sleep there as they had recently sent him to the field, He would
certainly be killed.
I was fed there and every morning we were given a Girish(quarter pence)
which was enough to tobacco only. While I was there, the Jebha killed Kidane
and Weldai. Kidane was a friend of Issayas and had liaison with him. They
had contact with wedi Haregot in Addis, Fessehaye Harregot. Issayas has said
he will write about them recently.
One man invited Weldai who was from Keren, that the man's wife had come
from Keren and that Weldai was invited. But we considered Keren as Methat,
we did not know the area. As Weldai entered the house, the assailants
immediately knifed him, and Kidane was hit hard that he fell unconscious, he
did not struggle. Weldai was knifed over 30 times, struggling right inside
the man's house.
Then, Kidane was tied to make him talk and they covered the corpse of
Weldai on a mat, tenkobet, and called a taxi. The taxi drivers name I have
not forgotten was Amin, a Sudanese who put the mat in the baggage place.
Kidane was hand tied and put in passenger seat, to drive them to Haffera, to
torture and make Kidane talk and kill him. This was end of 69 and beginning
As they had done the killing at night, the taxi was called early morning. As
the taxi was driving on the bumpy road the corpse in the baggage lock fell
on the ground. A milk man, (Halib) saw this and shouted they have dropped a
thing. When they stopped to pick their thing, Kidane opened the car door and
started running away, his hands tied backwards. They run after him and shot
him, in middle Kessela town. They were shouting to Amin the driver to come
to them. The milk seller heard the name Amin. That is how they were caught
by the authorities, and the driver was caught washing his cab, we heard.
But as the Jebha was strong in Sudan, the killers were released. It was
explained as a political matter, blood shed being worthless. It is said
they were 9 assailants, and 7 of them caught. Some were freed, some
imprisoned, rumours said. Some were said to have been killed. But I was not
in the Sudan then. I do not know the assailants in name. But one is a Blein
man. Because he had borrowed a sweater from me, and it had angered me. We
had met in the sick clinic while in Kyadal-ama when he borrowed it then, as
I was going to the Sudan. He must have been given pass to Sudan after me. I
did not forget him as he was a Christian. There was big separation of
religion, not like now, all being equal now.
My guides from the field, my killers, came a week after me and
asked me how I came before them. I said I happened to come before and that
they should give my papers to the office. After that, I did not feel safe
with them and wanted to flee, even to Ethiopia if nothing else. I really
disliked the place.
As Redie was in the outside, he presented me to Dejiat Asberom, who was
with Sabbe. He said that our people were suffering from the Muslims. And to
protect our country we have to get armed and return to Eritrea. I had no
idea of EPLF or any other front. As Dej Asberom was a Tsena Degle and we
both had dislike over Muslims, with my experience in the field. He gave me a
lot of money. I was not aware he was with Sabbe, and he never mentioned the
name Sabbe. But I knew who Sabbe was. Had his name been mentioned, I would
have refused, he being a Muslim, so I was fooled.
Anyway, Redie and I went to Khartoum in a Lorry truck, hiding up
under the truck cover, not allowed to climb down, as the Jebhas could kill
us. They had power there. It is usual they catch one and slaughter him, it
We reached Khartoum and Redie took me to a house, and there, there were
Muslims. What surprise, there were Muslims there too. I was shocked the
owner of the house was a Muslim. It is there I met Musie and we became close
Then a plane Abasco, came from Aden, Yemen, as their national airline was
called Albasco. I still remember the name. It was my first flight. So we
flew to Aden. The EPLF was newly formed then. We were the first Christians
to come to Aden camp. There were already about 700 Muslims there arrived by
ship, from Marya and Massawa tribes. We were quartered obviously Christians
in one, and Maryas in one etc, one knew his place.
Thursday, May 13, 2004
Aida Kidane, who is solely responsible for the contents of this page, contributes the above stories. For any comments, the writer can be contacted by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org