Revisiting the Kagnew Station Incident
By Woldeyesus Ammar
Mar 8, 2004, 09:01 PST

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In their writings to under the title of ‘Glimpses into the Kagnew Connection’ , Zekere Lebonna (19 Feb. 2004) and Berhane Redda (6 March 2004) referred to my posting of 2 February 2004 which was about ‘Nhnan Elamanan’ and not about the Kagnew Station event of 1970. Zekere Lebonna observed that people are shying away from writing about that 33-year old incident, and Berhane Redda encouraged people to write all what they know about the Kagnew event and other important occurrences during the years of struggle. Unfortunately, I am not coming up with any new evidence on the Kagnew Station incident, but wish to reproduce an old material for the benefit of those who did not read what had appeared in the Dehai discussion forum on 10 August 1999 about that subject. Included in my article entitled ‘Talking of Traitors and Treason’, was a summary of what Tesfamichael Giorgio, one of the key figures in the ‘Kagnew Connection’, had to say about the incident before his death in 1993. Therefore, reproduced below is part of the said material – a summarized translation of the press interview with Wodi Giorgio as well as my introduction to that story in my posting to Dehai. Good reading.

....the Kagnew Station ‘Deal’ of 1970. What was it?

The Kagnew Station story at one time evoked serious charges of treason perpetrated against the armed struggle. The alleged perpetrator was none other than Essayas Afeworki, the incumbent President of the State of Eritrea. Whatever its merit, the story is now little known among many Eritreans, the majority of whom were born or brought up after the year 1970, when the incident took place.

"The key figures who knew the full story were said to have included the following :

a) Abraham Tewolde, head of the fifth ELF command in 1970 who was killed reportedly in a mysterious circumstance in 1971 for his alleged reluctance to secede from the ELF, and disagreements over the talks with the Americans and the Ethiopians. Abraham Tewolde was succeeded to the leadership of the group by his deputy, Essayas Afeworki. The group then took steps to split from the mother organization, initially calling itself "Selfi Natzinet".

b) Habteselassie Ghebremedhin, a fighter who is said to have taken active part in organizing the meetings at Kagnew Station. According to a former EPLF prisoner (now residing in a German-speaking region of the world and who asked to remain anonymous), Habteselassie was latter killed [according to Berhane Redda after 1974] for having known took much about the meetings at Kagnew Station and the differences that emerged among the leaders of the faction .

c) Solomon Woldemariam, a one-time chief of security for ELF/PLF-II (the name Selfi-Natzinet acquired when it joined Osman Saleh Sabbe's ELF/PLF-I): Solomon reportedly had differences with the leadership in the late 1970s but was eventually taken to the field where he did not live long. Some people allege that he disappeared, just like that.

d) Tesfamichael Giorgio (also known as Wodi Giorgio) escaped from ELF/PLF (Shabia, then composed of three factions) to the ELF (Jebha) in the mid-1970s. He was the one who first broke the news about the Kagnew deal in the Eritrean field. His Kagnew Station story was tape-recorded and kept in the political office of Jebha. Wodi Giorgio always feared for his life. When the ELF was weakened militarily, he went to Ethiopia. In 1993, the quasi-free press in Addis Ababa tempted him to divulge some facts about the Kagnew story. His interview with the local press in Addis appeared in an Amharic newspaper called "Senay", volume 1 number 3 of February 1993. A short while later, Wodi Giorgio was shot dead in front of his Addis Ababa house. The story below is a summary of how Wodi Giorgio has been narrating the story to close friends until he was silenced in the hands of ‘unknown’ gunmen.

The Seedlings Planting Project

Formulators of the project were CIA functionaries stationed in Asmara in the year 1970. Their objective was to promote US interests in the Middle East and the Red Sea littoral . The ELF was seen as a threat to the interests of the United Sates, of Israel as well as the interests of their major ally in the region, Haile Selassie's Ethiopia. The Eritrean front was perceived as an organization mainly composed of Eritrean Moslems supported by nationalist and radical Arab regimes that were [perceived to be] somehow allied to the then Soviet Union.

The purported threat that the ELF could pose on US interests increased when ELF activities obtained international publicity following regional press reports on guerrilla operations which included damages inflicted on the Massawa-Agordat railway at Ashi-Dira (near Keren).

A CIA operation code-named « Seedlings Planting Project » was thus established not only for the immediate defense of the Kagnew Station and US installations at Gura from Jebha infiltrators and their potential supporters like the Palestinian Black September, but also to protect general long-term interests of America and its allies in the region.

The Project stationed its experts in Asmara and first contacts were made through young officials frequenting places like the Golf Club and the Top Five Club in Asmara. They learned that the ELF was [suffering of] feuding among its forces on regional-cum-confessional basis. Head of the Seedlings Planting Project, Richard Copland, contacted Tesfa-Yohannes Berhe, the deputy Enderassie in Eritrea, and others and convinced the Ethiopian authorities about his plans of meeting Eritrean guerrilla fighters to discuss ‘peace and reconciliation’ with the Ethiopian government.

A letter dated 15 October 1970, signed by Dejach Ghebre-Yohannes Tesfamariam, was sent by the Ethiopian authorities in Asmara to the fifth command of the ELF in the highland ‘peace talks’. An appointment was eventually fixed at Ala on 14 December 1970. Government representatives sent to the meeting were Dejach Ghebre-Kidane Tessema, High Court judge, Lt.Col. Ghebre-Egziabeher Mehari, deputy commissioner of Eritrean police, and Tesfamichael Giorgio, administrator of Dekamere District.

According to Wodi Giorgio, the government delegation asked Essayas and his team to make peace with the government of Ethiopia. The faction leaders implied agreement and promised to discuss the matter with their comrades-in-arms. In the meantime, they requested arms to make their faction strong, and requested that the meeting be kept confidential.

Richard Copland, who was behind the organization of the meeting at Ala, asked Wodi Giorgio to identify the key leaders of the group. A new plan of action was prepared at Kagnew Station in a meeting between Copland and a representative of Self-Natzinet, Habteselassie Ghebremedhin. After reporting his meeting at Kagnew to Abraham Tewolde and Essayas Afeworki, Habteselassie was again sent to Dekamere to meet with Wodi Giorgio so that both of them could prepare a meeting between the CIA team and a key representative of Selfi-Natzinet. A meeting was fixed in the field at which Richard Copland and Richard Sewellyn came with a catalogue on variety of American arms. The CIA representatives insisted that a formal request be made for American arms. A letter, addressed to Col. Mamuzer, commander of the Kagnew Station, was prepared by Essayas Afeworki. The salient points in the [letter by Essayas] were :

1- That the fighters at Ala, who were Christians subjected to constant persecution and murder by Jebha, which was supported by the Arabs who were channelling Soviet arms to Eritrea,

2- That the policies of Jebha reflected the policies of the Arabs and were primarily inimical to Israel and the USA,

3- That the faction (Selfi-Natzinet) was conducting a democratic struggle.

The Americans laid down concrete plans. Funds started flowing to promote the Seedlings Planting Project. When preparations were completed, Tesfamichael Giorgio went from Dekamere to Ala to bring Essayas Afeworki to Kagnew Station for substantive talks. He drove him from Ala to Asmara in a Land-Rover and took him for tour around Asmara. They arrived on appointed time at Kagnew Station. However, the CIA functionaries suggested that, for security reasons, the meeting take place at the residence of the Intelligence Officer, Bowling, situated near the St. Francisco Cathedral.

At the meeting, Essayas raised points similar to those stated in the letter he addressed to Col. Mamuzer. Copland positively noded to all statements made by Essayas and urged that the group (Selfi-Natzinet) should make its utmost to defend American interests. During the meeting, Essayas repeatedly reminded his American interlocutors that Selfi-Natzinet was not yet fully equipped and well manned to successful ward off aggressive Jebha onslaughts at Kagnew Station or the Gura installations and requested for increased support with arms and funds.

Copland opined that the Haile Selassie regime may be replaced by a military regime, and that his government was ready to make deals with any force that can defend the Kagnew Station and support installations of other facilities in the Red Sea region. The CIA representative promised substantial quantities of arms to Selfi-Natzinet if the group could succeed to control parts of the sea coast.

Another important issue Copland repeatedly dwelt on was the formation of commando units composed of Selfi-Natzinet and the Ethiopian government in order to fight the threat posed by Jebha and its supporters in the region. This idea was raised by the Ethiopian delegation in earlier talks and Essayas had agreed to it. When asked guarantees for the pledges made to Selfi-Natzinet, Copland quipped : ‘Mutual interests are the sole guarantees to each side’.

At the end of the meeting, the negotiators went to Kagnew for dinner. Essayas and Wodi Giorgio spent the night at Copland's residence. The next day, Essayas and Wodi Giorgio were taken out of Kagnew Station in a Cadillac car driven by Copland himself, with curtains drawn, and flying the US flag.


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