The 25th anniversary celebration of the demise of Nadew Command and liberation of Afabet was held from 17 to 19 March 2013 in Afabet. We, journalists from the Ministry of Information, had to go earlier from the days of the celebration in order to be able to cover the preparations and put in place our media equipment. Hence, we went to Afabet on Friday, 16 March.
The same day of our arrival, I and two of my colleagues were invited by a mutual friend to a get together of some people who have their own unique share to the demise of the Nadew Command. When we reached there we found people from different age and different ethnic groups chatting with each other and dancing in joy. And a new comer would immediately grasp that these people had do a lot in the struggle for Eritrean independence in general and to the demise of Nadew Command in particular. Their faces were shining and their attachment to each other very strong and never fading with time. They were as if they have never been separated. And that was where I decided to ask my friend, who invited us to the get together, to conduct an interview with him to find out the history of the people who were for me looked from one single family.
The next day, 17 Saturday our friend introduced me with Mr. Hamid Hassebella, Col. Osman Bekit, Mr. Woldegiorgis Tchni’e and Mr. Saleh Haji-Mohammed. The first question I asked them was on the objective of the get together they had the other day. All in unison told me that the get together was of members of the Middle-Eastern Eritrea EPLF People’s Militias. The people’s militia that was initially formed on battalion level developed to a brigade level and gradually to Zonal Army. Regarding their role in the group: Mr. Hamid Hassebella, head of the Middle-Eastern Eritrea People’s militias, Col. Osman Bekit, head People’s militias of Geleb area and its environs currently member of EDF, Mr. Woldegiorgis Tchini’e, head of People’s militias of Keren area and its surrounding and Mr. Saleh Haji-Mohammed head of People’s militias of Shi’eb area. The area covers vast portion of the country and comprised different ethnic groups: Tigre, Tigrigna, Bilen, Hidareb.
Their responsibility was to conduct different military operations including ambushes on the enemy, planting explosives, organizing people to participate in the armed struggle, establishing people’s assemblies and village administrations and other associations based on occupation, feeding information on the enemy movements and force capacity, cooperating with the liberation fighters stationed behind the front line, guiding youths who seek to join the struggle, and other orders coming from higher body of the EPLF. And through out the armed struggle they meticulously executed their mission and were the headache of the enemy.
The area in which they were operating was under the enemy control. However, the enemy was physically there but in reality it had no control of the people. They were establishing people’s assemblies and village administrations in front of the enemy eyes. They even were conducting land distribution and the enemy had no power to reverse that except brutalizing people and mass killing of innocents. According to the four heads I spoke with “The enemy was so desperate was compelled to target the people of that particular area, the Middle-Eastern Eritrea People’s militia and the people, and resort to killing people and ransacking property and livestock.) The massacre the enemy conducted on the people of Shi’eb was the result of the enemy’s desperation. The enemy came into conclusion that every Eritrean is its enemy, be it a child, a woman or elderly, and have to die. It was brutality in its highest form. All the atrocities, however, did not deter the people’s militias and the general population from contributing their share to the armed struggle for independence.
The people’s militias were also, when necessary, going into combat alongside members of the EPLA. They participated in the battles conducted in around Keren, around Debre-Sina, Woki-Debba area and destroyed many enemy vehicles and property with land mines. When the 52nd Division of the EPLA had to walk on foot for about 18 hours all the way from the highlands of Eritrea to reach Meshalit with a mission to block enemy reinforcement coming from around Keren and blocking the fleeing enemy soldiers and property with the demise of Nadew Command, the role of People’s militias in guiding, sheltering and feeding the fighters was very significant.
During the preparation for demolishing Nadew Command the role of the people’s militias and clandestine groups was also essential. Their role included conducting surveillance on the enemy and feed information on the position and capacity of the enemy, its fire power and number of enemy soldiers; participate in carrying ammunitions to the front line; guiding liberation fighters in case they miss positions; as well as providing necessary logistics in their disposal. And above all they paid to the liberation struggle with their blood and life.
During the battle for the demise of Nadew Command and liberation of Afabet the people’s militias and clandestine groups lived to their expectations in directly participating in combat, transporting captured enemy property, catching fleeing enemy soldiers and any thing that should be done to route out the enemy from the area and ultimately from Eritrea and end enemy’s occupation.
The other big question I asked them was, the Middle-Eastern that the people’s militias were operating comprises different ethnic groups and what was the secret of their unity and not betraying each other as that we observe in different countries of Africa with people suspicious to each other. Their response was one and same. “The secret for the unity of the Eritrean people was that the strong desire for getting free from the yokes of colonialism, the organizational power of the EPLF and the dedication of its cadres”.