On May 24, 1991, when Ethiopia's occupation of Eritrea ended and the EPLF army victoriously entered Asmara, the other liberation armies and armed groups of Eritrea (numbering nearly half a dozen) had to make a strategic decision. Most announced that they would suspend their military operations to give the transitional government of Eritrea (TGE) an opportunity to consolidate its victory and stabilize the nation. In some instances, it appeared that the EPLF was about to enter into a dialogue with some (particularly the Eritrean Liberation Front-Revolutionary Council or ELF-RC) but the effort was aborted midway by the EPLF. There were other opportunities for reconciliation that were missed including the period of referendum (1993); the constitution-drafting period (1995-1997) and after the breakout of war between Eritrea and Ethiopia (1998) when the EPRDF, Ethiopia's ruling party, reconciled even with former Derg officials.
Since then, many of the liberation armies and armed groups have been announcing, sporadically, of operations they conducted against the government forces. Their levels of activities have always been affected by the Eritrean regime's relationships with Ethiopia or Sudan. Between 1991-1997, the Eritrean regime had excellent relations with the TPLF and only those groups who were based in the areas bordering Sudan (the Islamists, and the ELF) were the ones announcing their operations. Between 1998-2002, when the Eritrean regime had poor relations with Ethiopia and Eritrea, these groups were given wide leeway by both nations. After 2004, following the Eritrean regime's reconciliation with Sudan, most of the organizations based in Western Eritrea have seen their activities severely restricted and, in some cases, their cadres and organizers in the refugee camps have been handed over by Sudan to Eritrea. Conversely, as the regime's relationship with Ethiopia deteriorated, those organizations based in Ethiopia or areas bordering Ethiopia (the Red Sea Afar, the Kunama and the EPDF) have intensified their operations.
Military communiqués by the opposition organizations are published on their websites, often in Tigrigna or Arabic, and therefore rarely seen by the English-reading public.
Nowhere in their communiqués do these groups announce that they have targeted or killed civilians—but that never stops the Eritrean regime and its supporters of accusing them of "terrorism."
Lately, many of these groups appear to have either re-activated or accelerated their military campaigns. Below is a brief summary of each group and their recent announcements:
Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF):
Founded in 1961 by Hamed Idris Awate, this is the "mother front" of all the liberation-era political organizations and is headed by Mr. Abdella Idris, the organization's long-time military commander. Mr. Abdella Idris has been incapacitated for several years now and the organization is jointly led by two deputies, Mr. Hussein Khelifa and Mr. Hassen Assed.
Grievances: power monopoly of the EPLF/PFDJ; absence of democracy and rule of law; displacement of Eritreans from the lowlands and "Tigrinyiazation" of the lowlands; expropriation of land by State; failure to return exiled Eritreans who have been in Sudanese refugee camps since the 1960s.
ELF's Military communiqué:
A statement by the military spokesman of the Eritrean Liberation Army, 11/8/2007
In support of our people's will, and in response to the repressive actions of the Shaebia regime against our people in all villages and towns of Eritrea and over all our map, units of the gallant army of the Eritrean liberation forces carried out a heroic operation to avenge our people against the moles of Afwerki's regime which is assaulting the livelihood of our societies which have been used to serve his aggressive plans against our peoples throughout our beloved Eritrean nation.
At 8PM on Nov 6, 2007, a heroic unit of our forces attacked the positions of division 21 of Afwerki's aggressive army on the region of 'Telim R'aasu' and directed its concentrated attack on the command location of division 21 and its logistic stores. It rained on it with flames of RPGs and machine guns and set it a blaze. The explosion in the logistics stores was heard by our gallant soldiers who confirmed that it was totally destroyed. The heroic attack on which different weapons were used and which came as a surprise to Afwerki's forces, continued for about an hour. The Shaebia forces tried to stop our soldiers by using different light and heavy arms, but our heroes of the Liberation Army continued to bombard it until the location was totally destroyed. The Afwerki army suffered 20 killed from its soldiers.
The combatants of the liberation army who carried out the operation returned to their camps safely.
Long live the Eritrean Liberation Front
Long live the heroic Liberation Army
Hail to our heroic martyrs
The military spokesman for the heroic liberation army
Eritrean Liberation Front-Revolutionary Council (ELF-RC):
When the ELF faced an EPLF-TPLF joint attack in 1981 and was driven out to Sudan, it convened a meeting in Sudan to assess the situation and how best to regroup. Arguing that the ELF's failure was primarily due to a fifth column within the front, a group led by the ELF's military commander, Abdella Idris, took charge. Another group, arguing that the organization must follow its internal rules, argued for maintaining power within an elected leadership, then known as the Revolution Council. This was the origin of the ELF-RC, which is now led by Mr.Woldeyesus Amar.
Grievances: Absence of constitutionalism, rule of law, and political pluralism in Eritrea.
Military Announcements: The ELF-RC has frequently suspended its military wing as it pursued peaceful conflict-resolution and it never issues military communiqués. Recently, while reporting on a trip that its leadership undertook in Sudan and Ethiopia, the organization displayed pictures of its armed wing on its website Nharnet.com.
ERITREAN PEOPLES DEMOCRATIC FRONT (Sagem):
Following the civil war of 1981 and the splintering of ELF, one of the groups which emerged was Sagem. Within a year, the group splintered again with one group joining the EPLF (including Zemehret Yohannes, Dr Gergis Teklemichael and Ibrahim Toteel) and another group decided to exist autonomously. The latter, now led by Tewelde Gebreselase, has been operational since then and has many times clashed with the Eritrean government forces.
Grievances/Calls: Political pluralism, democracy, human rights, devolution of power to the localities.
Military Announcements: Sagem is considered to have one of the more active military units but never makes announcements of its military campaigns.
Eritrean Islamic Islah Movement (Islah) & Eritrean Islamic Party for Justice & Development (Alkhalas):
One of the byproducts of the collapse of the ELF, which had largely managed to subdue Islamist tendencies, these two Islamist groups owe their origins to the late 1980s when the EPLF, following the collapse of the ELF, took control of the Western lowlands regions. Alkhalas was originally called the Eritrean Islamic Jihad Movement but changed its name to Alkhalas in 1998. Over the years, like most of Eritrea's organizations, the group now has other splinter groups including Eritrean Islamic Congress led by Hassen Salman (aka Abu-Bara’e) and other smaller groups. Alkhalas is led by Amir Mohammed Aamr and AlIslah is led by Mohammed Ahmed Saleh (aka Abu Suhail.)
Websites: Islah – islaher.org ; AlKhalas: alkhalas.org
Grievances/Calls: Forced conscription of the youth, particularly females; "Tigrinyiazation" of the western lowlands; Eritrean refugees in Sudan; power devolution to localities; restoration of Arabic as one of two official languages. A summary of their grievances is this sentence from the charter of alkhalas: "The present regime is not only violating the Eritrean people's rights but it is also involved in a very dangerous scheme aimed at marginalizing and sidelining Muslims and isolating their pioneering role."
Military Announcements: The two organizations were at their peak in the late 1980s and 1990s when the environment, particularly the prevailing environment between Eritrea and Sudan, provided them with safe sanctuary and moral/financial assistance. Despite aggressive campaigns by the Eritrean regime to list these two organizations as "terrorists", they are classified as a pressure groups because they have no cross-national aims and they do not target civilians.
Democratic Movement for the Liberation of the Eritrean Kunama (DMLEK):
Unlike most of Eritrea's armed groups, DMLEK is not a splinter group of ELF, nor do its leadership and most fighters have a history of participation in the armed struggle. Founded after Eritrea's independence and led by Mr. Kernelios Osman, DMLEK is an ethnic-empowerment group advocating the rights of the Eritrean Kunama, whose ancestral land is in the Southwestern part of Eritrea (Gash area.)
Grievances: Absence of rule of law and democracy in Eritrea; displacement of the Eritrean Kunama by Eritrean highlanders; "Tigrinyiazation"; nationalization of lands that are traditionally Kunama;
Recent military communiqué is found at its website. Presented here is its November 8, 2007 press release, in English:
DETAILED MILITARY COMMUNIQUÉ
Combatants of the Democratic Movement for the Liberation of Eritrean Kunama [DMLEK] inflicted heavy human and material loses against the Shaebia government forces stationed at Melezanai, a village situated at the vicinity of Tselim riisu in the western sector.
At the surprise attack has taken place on November 5, 2007 from 2:00 to 2:30 am. Killing 15 and wounding 5 soldiers and carrying off several arms and ammunitions.
During the offensive, 8 dubs in the camp thatched with a straw were blazed. That targeted platoon belongs to the 26 Regiment, first Briged, third Battalion and the second Platoon. The inflicted platoon had a man power of 35-45 soldiers. They were under the command of a certain officer Mengis by name.
Similarly the Administrative Office of Shambaco, a town about 35 kms. Away from Barentu was shelled by an RPG missile of the heroic DMLEK combatants on November 4, 2007 at 2:30 am. This office was a place where all sorts of oppressive measures against Eritreans were brewed by the brutal government.
Red Sea Afar Democratic Organization (RSADO):
Like DMLEK, the Red Sea Afar Democratic Organization does not owe its formation to liberation era fronts. The name of the organization first surfaced in 1999. Led by Ahmed Haroun, the group does not have a website and its military communiqués are usually e-mailed to many Eritrean and other websites:
Grievance: The group advocates for the autonomy of the Eritrean Afar—until February 2007, the group advocated that such right extended to the right of secession.
Military Communique issued on October 31, 2007:
The Red Sea Afar Democratic Organization said its fighters have killed 23 Eritrean soldiers stationed around Bada area during an operation it launched to free imprisoned natives of Afar.
In its statement, the organization said it launched the offensive on October 29 in Asbolo locality of Bada area located in Northern Dankalia.
The offensive launched on the 12th division of Shaebia is part of the struggle to overthrow the dictatorial regime and has killed 23 soldiers and wounded 15 others while the army's logistics warehouse was set ablaze.
The organization said it has also captured rifles and communication radios, and freed native prisoners jailed by the regime.
Shaebia imprisoned the natives of Afar as they opposed the endless and forcible round up, the statement said, adding that the fighters have returned to their liberated land after freeing the youth, women and clan chiefs.
The organization urged the public to further enhance support for the struggle to ensure the national rights and freedom of the Red Sea Afar people.
It also called on Eritrean opposition forces to consolidate their struggle and stand together against the dictatorial regime.
The above are those who have issued military communiqués but there are many organizations that have not done so. It is worth remembering that no opposition organization has ruled out armed resistance. At the rate issues are evolving, if a solution is not found for the bad governance in Eritrea, the risk of an all out violent confrontation cannot be ruled out.