Asrate Kassa was the ruthless Governor of Eritrea who was killed in 1974 when the Dergue summarily executed sixty high-ranking officials and feudal lords who served the Haile-Sellasie regime. With that action, the Dergue ushered the country into a reign of terror and bloodshed that ended in 1991 with the liberation of Eritrea and the overthrowing of the Dergue regime by a joint EPLF and EPRDF forces. Asrate Kassa was a major player in Eritrean politics. In the late sixties and until his death in 1974, Asrate Kassa made many efforts to establish contacts with the leaders of the Eritrean revolution. Many Eritreans believe that Asrate Kassa has actually succeeded in penetrating the Eritrean revolution. The following letter from the British Embassy written in November 1969 might shed some light.
21 November 1969
- There have been a number of rumours circulating in Asmara and Addis Ababa recently of a government offer to the E.L.F. of a return to federal status in Eritrea if the rebels agree to end their violence, cease their propaganda and cut their links with the Arab world.
- The most detailed story comes from Reg Brereton in Asmara. Brereton's French colleague told him that at this year's meeting of the Administrative Council of Eritrea (a body of eighty leading citizens who meet only occasionally) Ras Asrate Kassa gave the Assembly a prepared petition in which a request for the restoration of federal status to the province of Eritrea was formulated. He then asked the Council members for their signatures, promising that if the E.L.F. abandoned their campaign, the petition would be accepted by the Emperor. The initiative was said to be Asrate's. None of the council members would have dared to make such a proposal. The Council then signed the petition with only one dissenting voice. The French Consul General also told Brereton that he had heard that a small delegation had left Eritrea to discuss with E.L.F. leaders overseas the question of a return to deferral status.
- The French Consul General is usually well-informed, and a number of other people, (both Ethiopian and expatriate) have heard the rumour., Although I have no way of checking the details of the story, it seems to ring true and I think it likely that Asrate at least is preparing some kind of initiative Whether the central government would go so far as to agree to federal status is perhaps a different matter.
- There are several possible explanations for this initiative:
i) it may be a private initiative by Asrate who may feel that increased autonomy would give him more power.
ii) Asrate (or the government) may feel that a concession of this kind would take some of the sting out of the E.L.F. propaganda abroad.
iii) The Ethiopians may hope that this would cause a split in the E.L.F. ranks between Christians like Tedla Bairu (who would probably be content with federal status) and the Muslims (who want complete independence).
- Of these explanations, i) is the least likely. Asrate's aim is to become Prime Minister, not a sort of Eritrean Ojukwu and ii) and iii) seem more likely. As you know from Wood's minute to you of 17 October (enclosed with your letter JEE 31 548/2 of 27 October to Sir T. Bromley) there was some discussion during the Foreign Minister's visit to the U.K. of possible moves to win over Woldeab Woldemarian, a prominent Christian Eritrean resident in Cairo. Ketema responded favourably to suggestions of an amnesty for Woldeab made by Professor Ullendorf and there is some collateral to suggest increasing Ethiopian interest in the whereabouts of Eritrean dissidents.
- Although one cannot be certain, I am inclined to believe that some sort of effort is underway to win over moderate sup- porters of the E.L.F. which may involve concessions to Eritrean nationalists.