Contributed by Aida Kidane, 19 May 2005

 The article here is highlighting on the Battle of Gereger which was a turning point for both fronts yet very little known about.

  The term ”near liquidation” has been used by PLF articles  It was not that long ago that there are witnesses living from then. Both sides accuse each other of starting the civil wars that cost them many brave fighters and came to end in Zager village in 1974 when the population at large intervened bodily and stopped it. It was a temporary lapse as both sides were struggling for supremacy in the fields.

   The EPLF was groups of three different fronts. They had split from ELF in 1970 and based themselves in different parts of Eritrea. One faction, the PLF1 was more known as “Shaebia” and “Red Sea” by the then fighters being mostly from Semhar region. The Second faction, PLF2 were mostly from Highlands called “Ala Group” and also “Isayas group” and called themselves the Selfi Naznet and it was formerly led by Abraham Tewelde. The third group, the Obel were mostly from Barka and got the name Obel after meeting in that area in Barka.

  As the ELF already from Adobha and Awate conferences 1969 and 1971 warned that no other force is to be allowed in the field, the ELF and PLF groups had met at Aden in 1972 trying to close on their differences. From the ELF side one member was Saleh Eyay and Yohannes Sebhatu from PLF side among others.

  There was a 3 day attempted coup in Sudan led by communists in 1972. Some members of the communist party fled into Eritrea. The border was closed for all fighters and many joined the field through Yemen.

  These groups were chased in different battles to the Sudanese border in the north in 1973, to Gereger inside Sudan. The ELF here decided to strike and wipe out the groups in a surprise move.

 According to Aenawi MnKsKas (Destructive Movement) of 1973 Tigrina, some ELF vs PLF battles fought are named. Pages 33-34.

1. 11-12/5/72 Battle at Ayet of two days. 6 martyred from PLF and 13 wounded. 23 killed from the attacking force (ELF) and more than 30 wounded

2. 29/6/72 a whole day battle at Aratat /TruKruK/ 14 killed from PLF and 18 wounded. From ELF 20 killed and over 30 wounded.

3. 11-13/7/72 a three day battle at Hawel’E 21 killed and 24 wounded from PLF and the ELF retreated with 100 killed and wounded.

4. 17-25/3/73 a week long battle at Gereger. 12 killed and 17 wounded from PLF and the attacking force (ELF) left 101 corpses and over 130 wounded. The battle was stopped by the intervention of the Sudanese army.

5. 20/5/73 a whole day battle at Kebre-WeEt there 3 from PLF were killed and 7 wounded. Earlier in 18/5/73 where the attacking force(ELF) had surprised and hit the guarding fighters, fled leaving 4 corpses, now fled leaving 21 corpses and more than 40 wounded.

6. 26/8/73 a whole day battle at Fah 2 killed and 3 wounded from PLF while 8 killed and 13 wounded from the striking force.

  “These are battles from when the groups gathered in one place until the end of 1973. 14 battles had been fought earlier. Apart from the battles with the striking reactionary force, there were registered historical battles won over Ethiopian forces.”  36 battles registered against Ethiopian forces and 26 in 1973 against ELF. (page 36)

The supply routes were closed by the Sudanese after PLF was sent back into Eritrean territory and it was scarce of food. DM page 65.

This horrible battle of brothers killing each other was appreciatedly stopped by the Sudanese army led by L-General Abdel Kerim Sewar Al Dehab and L-General Khelifa Kerrar who then was vice chief of security, according to “Temukro Serawit Harnet Eritrea” Tigrina page 64. Here it states the ELF chased the forces to the Sudanese border between Karora and Agig, in Sudanese Ayterba. The Sudanese demanded ELF retreat and put PLF under their protection. This gave the PLF time to strengthen and at end of 1974 went to Kebessa. Not date is given here and the place different than Gereger.

  The book “Hafshawi politicawi tmhirti, 1st part”  Tigrina EPLF mentions the Gereger battle in page 102. It states that the week long attack by ELF was stopped by the Sudan army coming between them. They made both sides agree to stop fighting and democratically solve the problem in meeting, that both sides select committees and that no fighting continues either in Sudan or Eritrea. 

Araya Tsegai, page 77 of book The Long Struggle of ERITREA, 1988

According to the ELF, the liquidation of the EPLF was considered as necessary to the success of the Revolution: 

It becomes crystal-clear that in societies similar to ours, only one democratic national front can be formed.  The existence of more than one front under such conditions would either be a politically unconscious adventurist attempt underlying the dangerous strategic mistake of dividing the social forces of the democratic national liberation and hence, weakening it, or a conspiracy hatched by the colonialists to liquidate the revolution.

In both cases those who stand behind such a political phenomenon betray the revolution . . . and acts of sabotage directed at the unity of such a front should be confronted with the most unwavering determination to secure/contain it. (1) 

The means of securing or containing the second front, according to ELF leaders, was for the ELF, as the original front, 

to assert the continuation of the revolution through the liquidation of counter-revolution . . . This is exactly what is going on in our revolutionary experience now, and it is what is wrongly termed by advocates of counter-revolution and apologists of colonialism as the "fratricidal war" in Eritrea (2) 

  1. (1) ELF “Liquidation of Counter-Revolution” in The Eritrean Struggle, No. 3  1973 p.8
  2. (2)  Ibid. p. 14 

The kettle broke the might.

  This sudden attack by ELF was to liquidate the three forces that had been chased all the way to the Sudan where the ELF plan went wrong. The attack was foiled on the onset where ELF fighters surrounded the PLF at near dawn and a kettle hit a rock. This raised the attention of one guarding Obel fighter who asked who it was. Getting no response, he radioed the others of the danger thus the PLF preparing themselves for attack. This is according to two PLF members, narration below, one staying anonymous. Fighters used to carry kettles and pots since they did not have permanent fronts.  The battle was 17 to 25 February 1973. (Destructive Movement, Tigrina page 34) 

Here below are the memories of three fighters, two from the PLF-2 and one officer of ELF though not directly involved in the battle.  

Tewdros Gebrezghier (Aligaz)

Gereger was also referred to Gergeret Sudan and the other as Gergeret Eritrea. We were in the Sudan to strengthen ourselves and new ones were constantly joining us. Also the civil war had already started by ELF.  

Sabbe sent us much arms, food, medicine and materials like watches. When the ELF fought us with Guandi, non automatic gun, we used Kalashinkofs, Simanofs, Greenofs etc. We had modern arms. We had enough money and took sheep from peasants. The situation was such.

The border was not controlled and we were both in Sudan and Eritrea. In the civil fights one went to Sudan then Eritrea and so on.

We had been in Gereger for about 6 months when ELF led by Abdella Idris with his military including the renown Omer Suba, a Bren and Chicki marksman and his followers planned to attack us. He planned to totally liquidate Hizbawi Hayletat. They had even decided who was to be charged on what grounds. They surrounded us to attack us with surprise.
The three fronts had not united yet, and it comprised of a, the Red Sea group, the Shabia or PLF1, b, The Marya people, or the Obel, and c, our group led by Isayas, the PLF2. We had each our own defence holds. Sabbe had supplied us with walkie-talkies and the ELF did not have.
We certainly would have been wiped out had it not been for a kettle. It was common those days fighters to carry their utensils with them. The falling of a kettle was heard at that pitch night by an Obel fighter.
The guard heared words " ja jasus" meaning spy. In the history of Eritrean Liberation Movements `jasus was a common expression when someone does a mistake.

     The situation became suspicious that we were all contacted by radio to wake up and be in attention. I was in another hill than Sebhat Efrem, Tewelde Eyob etc. And that was the route Abdella led his men to.
Tewelde Eyob ordered all fighters to prepare their guns into automatic and start shooting when he gave the order. Automatic means instead of shooting one bullet at a time, it shoots all ammunition automatically. The firing started while it was dark dawning 4-5 am. And went on for about a half hour. When morning light shone, the ground was scattered with bodies. Abdella Idris himself was wounded there on the leg.

    From our PLF2 side only one man was martyred. He was a good man, Gebretsadik Guangul, or Cuba for having been in Cuba. Several were killed from the Red Sea group but do not remember if there were casualties from the Obel side.
Later, the wounded ELF men started crying out because the hyenas after eating the dead ones started eating the wounded men. Some from our side started shooting at the hyenas that Isayas slapped the shooting men telling them to stop. The men wailed for help saying they were our brothers but were told to burn like fire. Those on the side of Sebhat Efrem were hearing them as I had changed position and the area was big. I
personally did not hear the cries of the ELF wounded soldiers, but my comrades who were closer to them did hear, and they were the ones who told us.  

The experienced and veteran fighters of ELF were killed in that battle. Although the ELF participated in many battles, this was the turning point of their decline as a formidable front.  

It was a dirty and inhuman war. I did not understand everything then. Some like Musie, Yohannes Sebhatu and Tesfu Kidane(a brilliant university student from Addis) started asking why we continue fighting them. There was much we needed to know but no one dared ask.

   When the Sudanese made us back to Eritrea, they buried the remains of the dead with bulldozers. Wild animals left hair and nails of some fighters. They intervened several days after the battle commenced and the most effective battle time was the first half hour. It cannot be said that the Sudanese stopped the fighting because not long after we entered Eritrea we fought each other again.
The Gereger area is arid and dry with hills and mountains like in Sahel. There are difficult mountains that an ape could not climb. Water could be dug out in certain areas, like that of Denkel. One has to know where to dig. As for food we made bread of it. Since we were in Gereger for several months we had built ovens from mud. We had built strong defence lines, a half meter long wall with stones and there were no woods. We got political education of what struggle means, our goals, who the enemies are etc.

Some fighters changed their names that it is not easy know them by their other names. There were men from Addis like Tariku, Assefa and another gentle person whose name I forgot. Their Tigrina was with heavy accent and all were martyred in other battles. The first two were close friends and died in the same battle.
Arms collected by Sabbe were sent from Yemen to an island depo between us. A boat brings them to the shore and we carried them inland by camels. The way we went to get the weapons was through no mans land desert called Fits-fitso where only insects are seen. Walking through the area with congo shoes, ones hot feet get peeled like tomatoes. I have made the trip only once starting from Gereger. One has to carry enough food and water to take that trip and always with camels to carry the loads.

Welde Mariam Abraham

We entered meda through Yemen end of 1972.
I was new to meda when the battle started in Gereger. The first day of battle some of us were away and nearing there when it started that were cautious not to be caught by ELF had they known of our whereabouts.
. We hid that day and joined our group at night and participated in the ongoing battle.
We brought arms with camels. I, Tsehaye Weldegabriel, Selomon Weldemariam, Kidane Junubi, Haji and others were bringing the arms and we were few enough to be captured by ELF that we were very careful. As we were nearing Gereger when the battle started and we were radioed of the battle. Else we would have been forced to flee inwards into Sudan as we were very few, or caught by ELF.
It was widely accepted that there was no force able to defeat ELF. Their soldiers were called “Aremrem” by some, being strong and many, also that they paved their way out of battles.

Because we had free time, we had fortified our front by building stone wall chains 2-3 kilometers of about a meter and half in length. One goes by bowing the body from the enemy in case of shooting. It also helps from the cold winds. There was abundance of food, and were inviting each other to tea. Sabbe gave us ample weapons. The situation was good except from the leadership. We were always in tension not to be targeted by the ELF snipers.

Food and arms were given in numbers of fighters. Gereger was inside Sudanese territory. ELF had chased us all the way there. They were more numerous and stronger than us. They could have wiped us out if they had good planning.
We had just got klashinkofs with 30 bullets and ELF had Siminofs holding 10 bullets could have been advantageous.

Though we were in the same position our leaderships and administrations were separate. We had a co-ordinating committee regarding arms and food.

It was Abdella Idris who led the attack, saying there was arms depo with about 10 members of Medada- reactionaries and brought many fighters with him.


In that battle, about 20 of theirs were near us and we told them to surrender. They were surprised and most of them started getting their hands up. One of their side got angry saying they give up to Medada and started shooting at them, and all 20 of them were killed. Since all sides were in fighting position, they were easily machine gunned. It was saddening that 20 of our ELF brothers were killed uselessly. From our Selfi Nasnet side, we lost only one fighter, Gebresadik Guangul also known as Cuba because he had been in Cuba. He was looking into a loophole in the wall that a bullet hit him in the head killing him instantly. Tewelde Eyob was wounded a bullet entering one thigh and injuring the other thigh. I do not recollect if anyone else from our side was injured. We were not united yet with Shabia then and 6-7 were killed and did not know their names.

We had captured arms from ELF and carrying them in camels, I and Habteselassie lead the camels on foot. We all wore military outfits. Many fighters were killed and the corpses were smelling when we left them that the Sudanese buried them with bulldozers.

The Sudanese were also concerned when we started using artillery, the “Haun” bomb and it disturbed their security. It surprised them that we used more weapons than bullets and told us to leave their territory.
The corpses of the ELF were beginning to smell and we could not bury them as the ELF still surrounded us and held tension to shoot on our movements. The Sudanese after our leaving buried them in masses. It was my first and inhumane and cruel battle where brothers killed each other. Hyenas eat on the dead ad did not let the corpses alone. Our defence area was about 2-3 kms in diameter.
After the battle had ended and the Sudanese intervened and buried the bodies, the ELF could not shoot at us and I and Habtelelassie collected the ELF weapons carried one camel each. Because the Sudanese ordered us back and because ELF was on the way ahead into Eritrea, the Sudanese escorted us back lest ELF ambushed us or prevented us from getting water.
It was just then that I lost my way and carried the weapons towards the Sudanese direction as it was getting dark, ca 6.30pm. Camels were not used to climb mountains and this camel refused to climb. I took another direction hoping to get in time to the road I wanted. When I neared the Sudanese I called to my comrades and they came to me. This date was 2 March 1973. I remember the date because the next day as we spent the night there, and Tewelde Eyob was wounded in the thigh, he was treated again and he wrote on the new bandage 3.3.73. The medic’s name was Zerezghi. Adhanom Gebremariam was with us then. That day too, Naizgi Kiflu had a leather jacket and it was cut to cover the arms from rain and wind. Isayas called him “Feudal like Wedi Giorgio” and pulled it from the refusing Naizgi. We entered Eritrea then.

  The initial battle of Gereger was only one morning. But distant shootings and holding tension was for about one week.

It is difficult to tell exact dates and time of more events. All writings we had were taken away from us and then the beatings, imprisonment and the time lapse took its toll.

From there we entered Eritrean territory, to GleE and the date was 4 march 1973. From there we passed through Arag to Gereger Asmera and held it as a stronghold for a long time. There were two Geregers, one in Sudan called Gereger Sudan and the Eritrean side was called Gereger Asmera. From there we moved to Bliqat. I do not have much recollection of moving there because I was wounded that time. I was wounded in battle with ELF at Dek Seb village near Zager on 13 October 1974. Bliqat and Fah were strongholds until liberation.  

The Bliqat-Fah area had been an ELF front. We were about 2 kms away arial, separated by mountain and valley. It was difficult to pinpoint our and their positions. They could follow our movements standing in guard in the mountain with binoculars. We used to spread writings for them to move and receive, that we came to the field to fight against Ethiopia, not against each other. We even used loud speaker once as they were nearby and we had about 10 of them surrounded. We could have killed them but it was not our aim. We said we should all struggle against the common enemy.

At end of May 1973 ELF came to Gereger Asmera and took away a fighter guarding a mountain while the others fought their way out. He was taken to Kenya I heard. I think his surname was Gebremikel. Hilal a renown brave and educated man from Dankalia was killed in the battle of Kebri Wu´ut. He was not in good terms with Isayas and Omaro. Another fighter called Selomon Mengesha originally Tigrean brought up in Massawa had spent all his bullets and was killed. He had come with me from Germany and I was present when he asked Isayas if he could fight for Eritrea though only his mother was Eritrea and had no demands afterwards. He was allowed to fight and was that day martyred.  

    Soon, there was a battle with Ethiopian soldiers and Isayas, Mehari Debesai and Omaro collected the loud speakers and writings of zena section. We had written articles what democracy means between fighters, with civilians, between fighters and civilians, among fighters and the leadership. We also had written a national anthem, song about discarding regional and religious differences. The leadership said they were burying them. But when digging the sand, reddish under soil was visible and the Ethiopian soldiers took them. Isayas and Omaro started propagating that the MenkaE let Ethiopians take our property. To the Muslims they said we were communists and would forbid them from praying and reading the Koran.

Bliqat had been under the unit I was with for long time before the leadership moved there, to make sure it was safe from ELF. And then when fighting was intensifying to our fighters in Kebessa my unit went there. On September 1974 fighters like Wedi Fenkil were killed in battle in Filfil

Idris Hamedai (Humadi) part of his narration.

The reason Sudan wanted the fighting to stop was that Ethiopia and Sudan had made a peace agreement concerning the south Sudan. Haile Selassie would work to bring the South Sudanese to peaceful terms and Sudanese with Ethiopian side.

   The Sudanese were worried that battle flared inside their country and that it may spread inside their country. This was a national defence action and interest, not to help ELF or PLF.  Because ELF was more powerful, the Sudanese started pressuring ELF. The ELF had started the offensive inside Sudanese territory and the PLF would be forced to retreat further inside Sudan. They made both sides stop fighting and return inside Eritrea. The Sudanese that time had closed borders from ELF that supplies were stopped.  Even the ELF leadership members were forbidden from entering Sudan. Head of the Sudanese forces was General Sowar el Dahab, ministry of Defence.

  It is to be remembered communists with Hashem Atta had tried a coup in 1972 against Numeiri and were defeated. These communist party members fled to Eritrea where ELF helped them and sent some of them to Yemen. Some stayed with ELF and returned to Sudan when the tension subdued.

  At that time I was stationed between Gash Barka and Anseba. The leadership of ELF, the Revolutionary Council had met in February 1972 what to do with the other fronts. These fronts were intruding in their process, imprisoning and killing members of ELF and the Obel were propagating in Barka. A decision was made to eliminate these fronts and the decision was spread to all fronts. The meeting was held in a place called Sesah in Barka. I was given a written message and was with martyr Chekini member of Executive Committee.  We were holding a meeting in Seber in Anseba. Fighters gave us the message and reading it, it stated about the liquidation of PLF1, and Obel. But the decision about PLF2 was not in the written message. We were surprised to read this decision. In fact, Chekini was martyred near Gereger. All Executive Committee (Fesamit Shimagele) members were told to go to specified areas. We were told to be in guard if some of their groups in other parts of Eritrea started fighting too.  I was told to hold the areas from Seber to Gash Barka. Mahmoud Chekini was called to Sahel. We parted there and he was killed. I took my front to Barka near Tekreret and was given two Haili. PLF1, PLF2 and Obel were that time given new weapons from Sabbe.

   Mohammed Nur Ahmed and Suliman Haj were placed to hold fort in Mechelet near Keren. This was a meeting place from Kebessa, Sahel and Barka. Other fighters were placed to the Sudanese frontier. Other fronts were sent to Serae, Hamassien and Akele Guzai. Here the concern was from the Ethiopian army lest they felt it was good time to strike. We had controlled their movements outside their garrisons in Tesenai and Akordet.

  There were no fronts in my placement in Barka and Gash. The Obel had already been defeated and the  PLF1 and PLF2 were not around. I was to guard from the Ethiopian army coming out.

  With the preparations made we were sure of victory but our loss was much at the end. It can be said the PLFs did not loose. The ELF fighters refused to fight more. We had held meeting after the battle and our loss was evident. It had negative consequence on the front that Ethiopian forces took ELF areas, it started arming itself, and the peoples morale was hurt.

  From there, the opposite fronts entered Eritrea and spread out into 3 directions.  

It was Adem Dembay of Obel who took fine ELF weapons and gave themselves to Ethiopia. Adem Saleh had 35 fighters protecting him with latest weapons. Adem Saleh and Adem Denbay had bad weapons earlier. Then they went to Sahel and Sabbe gave them new weapons.

The problem inside ELF started in the conference of Adobha in 1968. The front was administered in 5 tribal zones. At that conference, the zones were presented with representatives of zone 1 with 10 members, zone 2 with 10 members and the three zones together with 18 members.
38 Kyadal Ama members were chosen and chairman being Mohammed Hamed Abdu with 3 secretaries 1, Isayas Afworki, 2 Romadan Mohammed Nur and 3 Ahmed Ibrahim (secretarie). The other branches like defence, logistics etc had secretaries as well.
At the First National Congress of ELF in 1971, the Kyadal Ama was dissolved and the 13 members Revolutionary Council (RC) formed. From Kyadal Ama, Osman Ezaz, Birhan Blata and Said Saleh were elected to RC.
As the field would not tolerate more forces and the Obel were harassing civilians in Barka, ELF decided to eliminate them. The Obel had proclaimed their separation in 21 December 1971. The RC held meeting on February 1972 deciding this. And in this month the 3 faction forces met in Beirut agreeing to help each other in battles.
A committee was formed to lead the attacks. It was not Abdella Idris alone who decided the attack. The RC held a meeting on it. About 10 members like Herui Tedla, Abdella Idris, Tesfai Tekle, Ibrahim Mohammed Ali, Ahmed Nasr etc of the RC members decided on it. Idris Mohammed Adem, Berhan Blatta and Mohammed Saleh Humed were not present in that meeting in the field though they were RC members.

The RC did not go forward with other options to solve the conflict. Abdella could have held discussions with Adem Saleh of Obel, discussing with Osman Abu Sheneb and Halib Sette and it was tried with the Sayedna Mustafa of Akordet. From Sayedna Mustafa, a Shiekh called Abdulhamid Ali was influential and strong sympathiser of the struggle. He had started contacting the sides to make them agree.
The first to be hit was the Obel, where Abdella Idris attacked them at Rahya Abay by Mensura, near Akordet. The Obel group retreated to Hahot, Marya land and fought again there. And from there they fled towards Sahel.
In the meantime, PLF1 attacked an ELF unit at May Uule by Sheeb where PLF2 came to their aid. They were chased to Sahel and Romadans group went to Sahel from Denkalia. It was at that time that ELF had sent PLF2 (Isayas group) a committee to Ala to hold talks coming to no conclusion and PLF2 went to help PLF1.


 (This is part of his audio narration of those times. It is not easy to understand the circumstances and identifying their names. Aida)


BOOK: From Guerrillas to Government. By David Pool

Chapter: The Formation & Organization of the Front

The Civil War and Unification

Pp 70-72

         Through the whole course of the liberation struggle sustained efforts were made to overcome problems arising from cultural, religious and linguistic divisions within Eritrean society.  As we have noted, their impact on Eritrean politics began in the 1940s and took an even more serious course as they became entangled in the conflict between the different liberation organisations.  When the conflict erupted into the first civil war, it was yet another scarring of Eritrean nationalism.  It provided a bloody impetus for the unification of the former ELF groups and an obstacle to the later unification of the ELF and EPLF because of the bloodshed and deep distrust.  The civil war is an important part of the historical record of Eritrean nationalism, and although it is impossible to verify the accounts of its beginnings, both ELF and EPLF attribute blame to the other for the turn to violence.

       The civil war decision was ostensibly taken at the ELF November conference in November 1972, and endorsed at its first national congress in March 1973 on the grounds that the 'Eritrean field cannot bear more than one organisation and one leadership'.  The actual beginning of the civil war is conventionally dated as February 1972.  Al-Amin Muhammad Said, however, argues that there was an informal meeting of leading ELF cadres to discuss the problem of the opposition.  It was attended by some members of the general command, with Abdallah Idris (12) at their head, in june 1970, together with some members of the military units in the Kolontabay area in Barka province in western Eritrea.  It was here that the decision was taken to liquidate the opposition forces, with Abdallah Idris and Osman Azaz taking military and financial responsibility for the project, respectively. (13)

      Taking men and arms from a unit in Akalai Guzai province, Abdallah Idris set out to attack a PLF force moving from southern Dankalia to the Simouti area, west of Mersa Fatma.  Apparently, the attack was stopped by a group of ELF fighters.  A second attempt to initiate fighting was made in November 1970 in the Dabat area.  On this occasion, opposition to an attack was led by ELF fighters, and a dialogue committee was formed from them to discuss problems with PLF forces.  A major source for al-Amin's account of these incidents was Muhammad Sa'id Barih, one of the ELF fighters at the Dabat meeting, and from the Tigre-speaking Muslims, who opposed the ELF's recourse to military means. (14)

          The ELF's account of the origins of the civil war differs from that of the EPLF.  It traces its beginnings to 'provocations' by the PLF and Obel.  It is nigh impossible to disentangle what actually happened.  Given the ELF leadership's early determination to brook no opposition, as indicated by its attack on the armed wing of the ELM in 1965 at Ela Tzada, the eventual outbreak of a full-blooded civil war at the end of February 1972 came as no surprise.  Although ELF official sources state that the meeting between the three breakaway factions and Sabbe in Beirut was only 'later revealed', it is unlikely that ELF leaders were unaware of the meeting and the potential military and financial backing for the dissidents that would ensue.

       The calculation of the ELF leadership was that it would be a short campaign and focused on defeating the separate forces of PLF and Obel and leaving the Ala group alone.(15) On 29 February, two of the ex-GC Obel leaders and their forces surrendered when they were surrounded.  Full-scale military operations against the PLF began on 16 March 1972 in the She'b area.  After another battle toward the end of March at Hahout some of the survivors of Obel and the PLF withdrew to northern Sahel.  The Ala group, though not initially attacked, was determined not to return to the ELF and was inevitably drawn into the fighting. 

      The beginnings of the civil car and the need to acquire arms from Sabbe's general secretariat were catalysts in forging a national front between the dissident fighter groups and Sabbe's external faction.  The Beirut meetings from 3 to 12 February 1972 between them and Sabbe went some way to clarifying the relationship between an external leadership with access to arms, ammunition and money and the field commanders and fighters.  From mid- to late October 1972 a meeting of all three factions of the opposition concluded with a set of political, administrative and military decisions aimed at creating a united front.

Given the drift to civil war and the Obel group's links to Sabbe, the opposition factions were keen to ensure a regular flow of arms and finance from outside Eritrea and gain control of the field.  The meeting in Beirut attempted to regulate the relationship between the field fighters and the general secretariat, renamed the foreign mission (FM, and resulted in further discussions on unifying the fronts.  A committee was formed to distribute weapons and money fairly among the groups, to enhance political education and provide literacy training for the fighters, to organize civilian Eritreans and provide assistance to refugees and the families of martyrs.  It was also agreed that a conference would be held within a year.

   The agreement also proposed a dual autonomy for the field and the FM on the basis of mutual non-interference, and an attempt was made to make the latter accountable through regular monthly reports and statements of expenditure.  Three-quarters of the money raised was to be spent in the field and the remainder outside.  The FM was to expand its activities outside the Middle East and establish ties with progressive Ethiopian forces.  The agreement was essentially a compromise.  For the FM, it provided links with an armed force in the field and thereby furnished it, and Sabbe in particular, with political and military credibility vis-a-vis the ELF and Arab governments.  For the fighters it was a means of securing money and arms and diminishing the influence of external political leaders and, through them, regional states, particularly Arab Muslim states. It was a step on the way to creating an autonomous organisation impermeable by external forces.

  For the three armed factions the linkage brought access to money and arms.  For the PLF, the link provided continuity: a significant number of PLF fighters came from Samhar province, particularly the Massawa-Harqiqo area, and had links with Osman Salih Sabbe.  He had been a schoolteacher in Harqiqo, an active nationalist and recruiter of students into the ELF.  Among others be taught or recruited were Al-Amin Muhammad Said, Ramadan Muhammad Nur and Ramadan Awlaya, a heavy artillery commander through the 1980s.  The Samhar command, the fourth zone led by Muhammad Ali Umaru, had been relatively privileged given its easier access to arms which Sabbe shipped across the Red Sea. 


(12) Abdallah Idris was from the Bani Amir and, according to documents produced by the EPLF, his group began conspiring with Ethiopian officials prior to independence.  See appendices, al-Amin, al-Thawra.  After independence, he took to armed opposition to the new Eritrean government, and those that know him depict an overwhelming personal hatred of Issayas Afeworki.

(13) Al-Amin, al-Thawra, p. 122.

  (14) He was subsequently elected to the EPLF political bureau in 1977.

  (15) The ELF version is that 'Sabbe's PLF faction' and the Obelites attacked ELF fighters and  stores.  Although the Ala group, or the 'Essayas faction' as they called it, was vilified, the ELF did not blame it and purposely did not attack it.  That the group was wholly highland Christian was the main factor.  Eritrea: The National Democratic Revolution versus Ethiopian Expansionism, 1979. 


Vol1. Dec. 1976 Sweden Branch.


Repeated efforts to bring about these changes through the holding of the previously agreed-upon but long overdue National Congress resulted only in the more treachery, assassinations and arbitrary jailing. Consequently, the progressive and patriotic fighters were left with no viable revolutionary option other than continue the struggle outside the framework of the corrupt and reactionary leadership of the E.L.F. which styled itself as the “General Command.” Thus, in 1969, almost all the progressive fighters decided to totally reject the corrupt and reactionary leadership of the General Command. Consequently, a band of fighters separated from its administration and carried the armed struggle to southern Eritrea. At the same time, most of the other progressive fighters regrouped in the Sudan and opened a new front in eastern Eritrea. In April 1970, these two groups joined to form the People’s Liberation Forces (P.L.F.) and started to wage the armed struggle for national liberation on a new revolutionary basis, which a clearly defined political programme and a correct revolutionary strategy which called for a United National Front against colonialism, imperialism and zionism. Meanwhile, another group, the Eritrean liberation forces (Obel) had split from the General Command and joined the ranks of the People’s Liberation Forces. Immediately, the P.L.F. began to develop into a solid revolutionary force with a fast growing mass support at home and increasing progressive support abroad. Thus, the General Command faced growing isolation and disarray, both at home and abroad, while the P.L.F. consolidated its position on both fronts. This alarmed the General Command into calling for the hasty convening of the overdue “National Congress” which it held in December 1971. 

Among the outcomes of its sham “National Congress”: the change of name from the General Command to the “Revolutionary Council” was the most pretentious; while the decision to “liquidate” the P.L.F. by force of arms was the most fascistic; and the waging of the infantile, ultra-leftist propaganda abroad was the most deceitful and misleading. Unable to distinguish between the primary and secondary contradictions confronting the Eritrean Revolution and, therefore, incapable of understanding the correct method of resolving each category of contradiction, the “new” “Revolutionary Council” declared war on the P.L.F. in February 1972. It must be recognized, however, that it was the desire to safeguard its underlying class interest, only accentuated by its fatal deficiency (its apparent innocence of the revolutionary process) that embarked the self-styled “progressive wing” of the “Revolutionary Council” on an anti-democratic and counter-revolutionary path. After four months of fighting, the resolute determination of the P.L.F. to fight back in self-defense while, at the same time, engaging in mass mobilization and a revolutionary peace offensive, affected a decisive shift in the balance of forces in its favor. Thus, it was the effective disruption of its offensive capability rather than a belated recognition of the need for peace and the establishment of a United National Front against the common enemy that convinced the “Revolutionary Council” to stop the civil war. In October 1972, the PLF held a very important military conference in the liberated zone and resolved to work harder for the complete realization of its programme of national unity, the intensification of its mass mobilization effort, the consolidation of the achievements of the revolution. The repository revolutionary leadership, a Central Committee is mandated with broad powers and ultimate responsibility for the conduct of the Revolution and the practical implementation of its political programme in accordance with its overall strategy.  

Markakis page 134

At the beginning of February 1972, at a meeting of the Revolutionary Council, presided over by Hirouy Tedla, it was decided to attack Sabbe's PLF group in the Danakil. The attack was launched at the beginning of March, and forced the outnumbered PLF contingent to seek refuge in the northern Sahel. Although they were not attacked, Isayas' group at Ala thought it best to remove themselves to the Sahel also, and so were immediately drawn into the bloody civil war that ensued.

    The northern Sahel is ideal guerrilla terrain.  The highlands descend to the plain in a jumble of steep, badly eroded hills, separated by innumerable ravines and meandering streams whose rock-strewn beds are dry most of the year. The labyrinthine topography provides ample cover for small groups. Access to the Tokar plain in the Sudan and the ports of Suakin and Port Sudan is easy.  Only nomads wander there, the Ethiopians had not put in an appearance in the northern Sahel, and the ELF had few men there.  When it arrived, the group from Ala numbered about 160 men, who joined some 250 members of the PLF, survivors of Obel, and a Marya contingent led by Abu Tyara.

        In the spring of 1972, the ELF decided to eliminate the opposition nest and sent units to attack it. Thus, a civil war began, the first phase of which was to last until 1974. Initially, with neither side having established bases in the region, they fought a running war of skirmishes and ambushes, which climaxed in a pitched battle lasting a week at the end of February 1973. It began at a place on the border called Ghirghir and spilled into the Sudan, forcing the Sudanese army to intervene to push the Eritreans back into their own side. Both sides suffered losses, and neither could claim victory, yet it was a turning point because it proved that the ELF was unable to crush its opponents. The latter now established their first base at Ghirghir, then set up a central base at Belekat in the Sahel. The last engagement in this province was fought in May 1973. Afterwards, the ELF-PLF moved its forces steadily southwards towards the central plateau and Asmara, and clashes with the ELF took place along this moving front.  

Eritrean Revolution                                      E.L.F.

                                                                               INFORMATION BULLETIN

Vol.2 No.2 August – September 1977

p. 4 

* The second factor is the thrust of the sectarian, reactionary, tribal and rightist forces to lead the Eritrean national struggle against, Ethiopian colonization.  Here, the Revolution, led by the ELF, scored its most significant and strategic victory.  In the period, when these forces' were able to penetrate and dominate the leadership of the Eritrean national struggle, in a certain historical condition, they did much harm to the identity of the Eritrean struggle, caused it severe detriment, and led it to a destructive and bitter outcome, from which our people, as well as the Revolution's fighters greatly suffered. 

Certainly this did not last long, for the genuine democratic and nationalist forces in the arena, after an arduous struggle following the (Adobha) military conference and the emergence of the "General Command", and until the convention of the First National Congress of the ELF in 1971, were able to defeat the Eritrean reactionary and sectarian forces which disclaimed the principles of democratic work and the spirit of democratic practice and wanted to monopolize the leadership of national action through tribal conceptions and sectarian attitudes, and tailor it to fit their own interests and to secure their control over national work in all stages.  In fact, every Eritrean nationalist and every fighter in the Revolution realize the extent of the treason which these forces committed towards the Revolution, the people and the homeland. Firstly, they handled the Eritrean question cheaply and then presented the Eritrean Revolution as other than a national liberation struggle, and weakened through sectarian and tribal divisions and civil warfare in an attempt to weaken the Revolution represented by the ELF, in addition to its physical liquidation and they desperately tried to fragment and demoralize the Eritrean Liberation Army (ELA) and get rid of it.  Of course, the crisis, faced by the Revolution, led by the ELF, in the late sixties and early seventies was the most dangerous one in the life of the Revolution and the Eritrean people.  With firm revolutionary will and with a high sense of responsibility, the genuine national forces and the democratic elements within the ELF were able to emerge from this difficult crisis and the intrigues devised by the Eritrean anti-revolutionary forces against the Revolution.  The Eritrean democratic nationalist forces, in order to cross this treacherous stage, bore great and costly sacrifices and suffered from critical and harsh periods due to the Eritrean right's foreign control and its withdrawal from the arena with resources which belonged to the Revolution.  All this revolutionary effort gave good results.  On the one hand, the main body of the Revolution, the ELF, was secured, while the unity of its striking, arm, the ELA, was also preserved.  Certainly, this did not please the forces which withdrew from the struggle's arena and preferred foreign moves, to direct struggle against the Ethiopian colonialist.  Thus, they renewed their activity in order to carry out additional sabotage against the Revolution and the people's unity, exploiting and employing their material potentialities and connections with external reactionary circles, aiming at creating a centre for counter-revolution and for the rightist and divisive forces in the Eritrean arena so that they may continue to obstruct the Revolution's progress and serve as an antidote to the Eritrean national democratic forces. 

The counter-revolutionary forces failed virtually even to accomplish this goal, for in no time the weak bond that held the Eritrean sectarian, tribal and reactionary forces in a hostile and antagonistic position with regard to the ELF was broken, and these forces later crumbled into little bands and factions, choking with the cohesion and unity of the ELF, and the growing strength of the ELA. 

Now that we stand at the end of the sixteenth year of our people's armed struggle, we can confidently say that the national democratic forces within the ELF did not only succeed in securing and maintaining the unity of the people and the Revolution and in foiling the aims of the counter-revolution, but they also succeeded in giving the Eritrean national struggle its deep democratic character and content.  They also achieved the principle of the domination of revolutionary democracy in national practice through the leadership, and the military, political, administrative, and mass, institutions... etc. 




                                              NATIONAL UNITY

pp. 8-9

The unity of all forces with genuine interest in the national liberation of Eritrea is of paramount importance today.  And, indeed, "fidelity to national unity is fidelity to the triumph of the Eritrean Revolution".  Any force which poses with false pretences to thwart and delay this goal is counter-revolutionary and enemy of the long-stretched, bitter struggle of the Eritrean people. 

The conspiracies of expansionist Ethiopia and its cohorts - including imperialists and Zionists - and the prevailing international situation demands that the Eritrean Revolution unites all national energies and forces which hitherto have been unduly dispersed by non-antagonistic secondary contradictions and trivial misunderstandings. 

The- national democratic programme of the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF), which has long proven its worth, is a victory scored through hard and difficult struggle of the democratic and revolutionary forces of the ELF.  But the final consummation of the Eritrean Revolution and its noble objectives hinges on the pivotal question of national unity. Its realization is the historic duty of those same revolutionary forces who built and strengthened the bases of our people's revolution. 

National unity is required not only to chase out the Ethiopian occupation forces from Eritrea, but also to safeguard the gains of the Revolution and unity of the people.  Anyone who tries to gloss over such realities an feigns ignorance of the detriment of disunity to the people and their  struggle is nothing else but a sworn enemy of the people - and must be dealt with accordingly. 

Starting from the early days, and especially since the military conference of Adobha in 1969, the ELF strongly championed unity of the national forces in the Eritrean arena.  When divisive forces started to weaken the Revolution in 1970, the ELF warned (at Awate conference) that disunity of the liberation movement will jeoparadize the aims and aspirations of the Eritrean people for freedom and independence.  The first and second National Congresses of the ELF affirmed that national unity is the sure path and the guarantee of the victory of the Revolution.  And as such, all possible means should be exerted to materialize that objective.  The ELF, the vanguard of the Eritrean Revolution, did try, and is trying, all possible means to achieve that goal. 

Ever since the cessation of hostilities with the PLF sprinter group in fate 1974, the ELF spared no effort to create a conducive atmosphere for unity. Its repeated calls for democratic dialogue usually fell on deaf ears. 

Deepening the injury to national unity, the PLF sprinter group divided itself into two in early 1976, thus complicating the central issue for the Revolution. 

To salvage the Eritrean people's struggle, the third regular meeting of the Revolutionary Council of the ELF resolved that a national democratic front should be created through a unification congress in which al sides will participate. 

After having ignored several calls for a meeting, the EPLF finally agreed to sit for talks on the matter.  A joint communique of the ELF and the EPLF, issued on May 30, 1977, revealed that the latter has not yet grasped the objective realities of the Eritrean Revolution and the urgency of the creation of one national democratic front. Instead, the leadership of the EPLF rigidly stuck to its unrealistic and unscientific proposal for  “united front”.  But at the same time the EPLF leadership recognized the existence of its former part (now calling itself ELF-PLF) and recommended that the ELF take positive steps towards the so-called third front for the final realisation of unity of the Revolution.  This was, in other words, EPLF's recognition of the consistent and principled stand of the ELF concerning the national unity of the Revolution, of which the ELF has the historic responsibility to protect and safeguard! 

As the July issue of the monthly field publication, "Eritrean People's Struggle", asserted, the national democratic programme invites all national forces with genuine interest in the liberation of the country for unity.  But no force will be able or be allowed to tamper with the programme which will definitely castigate all anti-democratic and anti-people tendencies within one organization. 

ELF's strenuous efforts to achieve principled unity continues.  Last week, the ELF reached an initial agreement with Osman Salih Sabbe's ELF-PLF group on procedures concerning the creation of the national democratic front in Eritrea.  The Sabbe group agreed for an immediate merger with the ELF under the latter's national democratic programme.  The ELF-PLF side also ascertained that it will take steps to negotiate and reach agreement with its former partner, the EPLF, on the creation of a national democratic front. 

According to the communique, the merger is to be effected in the shortest time possible through an agreement between leaderships or by holding a unification congress. 

Both sides also agreed to work towards creating a conductive atmosphere in all fields to facilitate the realisation of national unity.  The agreement, is however, subject to review by the forthcoming regular meeting of the Revolutionary Council of the ELF.


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



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