The PLF leadership crisis 1973

This incident was one small happening which led to a large one, fighters purging each other thus the killings of the
"Menkae" and possibly the "Yemeen" branded fighters of the so called movements.
I prefer sending the persons interviews than analyzing it because the fighters I interviewed told me of their personal
experiences and were not in the exact places when the happenings occurred.

Interview with ex ambassador Haile Menkerios 24.10.04

When did you join the struggle?
I went to meda early 1973.

Why did you go?
You have to understand there was a lot of idealism, student movement, and it was not only I but many students. It
was a duty which we happily accepted. We knew that harsh life was expecting us. We decided that we should be
examples to all Eritreans for such a commitment. I was in graduate school then. We were the first ones going from
here. We were about 5 who started but only I and another friend went to meda.

We went through Yemen to meda since we had contact with meda. Aboi Welde Ab was in Cairo in the PLF-
Peoples Liberation Forces- office. The ELF and PLF were in civil war then. Going to Sudan was falling into the
hands of the ELF and the main office of PLF was in Democratic republic of Yemen - Aden. There was another office
in Beirut too, in these 3 countries.

In Cairo office was Taha Mohammed Nur, Osman Sabbe himself in Beirut and fighters in Yemen who had direct
contact with meda. And anyone joining meda goes through Yemen in those days.

So we went to Cairo and then to Yemen. From there we took a small boat, a fisherman's dhow across the Red Sea to
the Eritrea-Sudan border to Sahel, and at night time.

While in the US, we had contact with meda through members as Tsegai Khasai had come, and also Mahmoud
Sherifo and Gebre Medhin Gidey who were in Kessela. We had contact with them from end of 1970 and 71, and
after they went to meda we had contact through Aboi Welde Ab and Taha.

All the fighters split from ELF. Some went to Ala, others in small groups to the Sudan when killing started. Those
PLF1 mostly Red Sea people, were taken by Sabbe to Aden and then to meda. Sherifo had stayed in Kessela and we
corresponded with him. Then Gebre Medhin went to Cairo.

When I joined the front, there was no regular military training. We were joining in small numbers, 2 or 3 in one
time. At daytime those not trained were called out to the river banks and we got some military exercise as we went
along and at nights we slept in hills.

Then a large group of about 30 came from inside Eritrea and we had a 2 week training together in a place called
Arag, in Sahel.

We heard of the civil fightings of Geregir and that the Sudanese had told the Eritreans to get inside Eritrean border.
When we reached Eritrea, there were fighters waiting for us since supplies and weapons too were brought with us.
They told us of having heard shooting in Geregir when coming to us that our forces must have moved camp. The
civil strife continued when we were there for 6 months.

There was registration of new comers, written in note books, not properly as was later used. One to be fighter is
already known of, coming to Yemen. For those joining from inside Eritrea, the town agents gathered them in Bahri.
The person's name and background is known then and proceed to Sahel.

The PLF 1 (Shabia)were about 150 man strong and PLF 2 (Selfi) about 120 and Obel 20-30 men. All sides had
their circles, it was not totally integrated then. We new ones and the 30 other new ones and some coming in few
numbers had made training for 2 weeks, numbering to about 50. This is a large number of force that reformation
(tekhlit) were made, and a new haili formed.

Then, I and Mehari Gimatsion from the USSR were told that we should go abroad and organize students, workers
etc organizations and to return to Europe. I did not want the job after come determined to fight in the field. It was
better to send a veteran fighter who had many experiences because we cannot be called fighters in only 6 months

While we were at the river side, there had been a long time competition between Selomon W Mariam and two
leadership members, Tewelde Eyob and Asmerom Gerezghier. Selomon was an active person who used to make
cliques of his own, he was a city man with connections with civil organizations, not much a military man.

Tewelde Eyob was the strongest of the three and Asmerom was not much educated or active but they were
regarded militarily leadership by the fighters. As the country had feudal society, people depended more on persons
from their region. Selomon was rumoured on being a regionalist and had sometime spoken the Akele Guzai being
more numerous. We were surprised that such backward thoughts were in meda, even Eritrea was seeming little for us
let alone think in region, and we did not know who was from where.

All soldiers slept in hill tops while the leadership rested in river bank guarded making it not easy for the enemy to
enter. Water was so important it had to be well guarded surrounding the area lest the enemy control the water areas.
We were expecting to be sent abroad.

We had come to understand the confrontations of Selomon on one side and Tewelde and Asmerom on the other
side. One day, Selomon came to us and said that from now on he will eat in our group. The first female fighters
Dehab and Werku were already with us.

As we were distributed radios, Selomon took our radio. I asked him why he did not use the leadership's radio than
ours because we wanted to hear news too. He answered no, theirs is the mesafinti (feudal) radio, and I was shocked
that the leadership had such disagreements.

In the daytime next day, I talked to some officers saying we are seeing a not strong leadership. We had the criticizm
and self criticizm customs. That Selomon openly calls the others feudalistic, how could a weak leadership continue,
meaning the whole front is not strongly led. They told me I should say to Selomon himself and I answered that the
leadership makes us criticizes for the loss of needles and they should together do their own criticizes. I cannot go to
Issayas and tell him Selomon calls him a feudalist.

This was the start of the whole situation that expanded into other matters. This called for a meeting of 12 persons,
the leadership and some cadres. Issayas wondered why the meeting was called. I was then asked what happened. I
repeated what had happened and said I think the fighters see you as a solid leadership and matters should come into
agreements. These fighters had long time relationships and said it was Selomon who was feudalist and was
regionalist tendencies too. They talked of past experiences what had happened and the majority were against

Issayas then said that he cannot continue acting like their priest and the issue must be resolved among these people
once and for all. When he said that, the issue became wider. We were there to reconcile and the some of the accused
cadres and leadership now became the accusers. We said to them that they could not solve the problem as they were
seen accusing each other and it should be examined. Selomon is accused of being regionalist, and you who should be
in between are becoming accusers. We were 7 together. I suggested that those who knew them all should hold a large
cadre discussion. This radio incident was the opener of the conflict history.

Then 52 members from all hailis-units and veterans gathered. They told us to run it and we saw there was a deeper
division amongst them, Akele Guzai and Hamasien divisions. As the front's strongholds were in Ala and Semanawi
Bahri-Hamasien, it was the people from there who joined in most numbers. Many from Serae and other regions
joined ELF because ELF was in those areas. Joining the front for many was not an ideology question, but proximity
to join. Many who joined were specifically from Karneshim and Tsena Degle areas because they lived in these areas.

Selomon had his gangs of supports and Tewelde/Asmerom had their own gang. It was much later we learnt that
Asmerom was from Debarua, Serae. It is common that people connect to their near folks and feudal traditions are not
overcome yet.

The worst situation came from the educated fighters who did not like the way the leadership run the front, saying
The leadership are backward and are attacking Selomon by regionalism. That the leadership should be thoroughly
changed, and we should be guided by scientific socialism, saying this was a national democratic revolution, socialist
in character to lead to communism. These fighters were strongly leftist, with many opinions which we believed in
too. They claimed that the leadership is feudal and Issayas was with these men that it should be changed. Our aims
should be changed making it a socialist revolution.

The leftists sided with Selomon claiming the leadership wanted to kill him, to get alliance from the Hamasien side
were more in number and stronger, and gain support from his side. And Selomon became their ally.

In this meeting of the 52 members, the leftists were attacked saying they are using Solomon's regionalism to
remove him later and take power because they themselves are regionalists. The leftists wanted to use the cracks on
the leadership. They wanted larger fighters meetings and that the educated should lead etc. This lead to the
movement known as the 'MenkaE movement'.

Then Musie T Mikel from the leftists said these people use the front as their personal power who 'pee and make
faeces' as they wished. Musie was not at loss to use words. They suppress people and charge anyone as they wish be
it in regionalism or other to kill him.

Since we were the ones who gathered this meeting, we had called fighters who could make changes from the
leadership and Musie and co were one of these. We invited them specifically too.

When Musie used these words, there was Tsegai Keshi, a haili leader, who was against Selomon, though he was
Hamasien too. He was a very forward and honest but uneducated man and no talker. He got so angry saying 'now
you say this leadership pees and makes faeces!' and hit Musie on the head with his rifle butt. This should not have
happened and we demanded that Tsegai be imprisoned. I, Mehari Girmatsion and a third man were the responsible
for holding this meeting. As it was according to PLF rules, I myself imprisoned Tsegai. He did not shoot at his
comrade but hit him and putting a guard on him, he was sentenced to punishment.

That became the end of meetings and the leftists said did we not say so, that they pee and have faeces on us. And
they took over and Musie used that. Musie was a smart guy. Thinking about it later, there was nothing bad about it, it
was true.

The traditional leadership did not have capacity to lead, although they started the military wing. Tewelde Eyob was
a good military leader. Issayas was the only politically capable person. Basically many fighters had come from the
rural areas and the conflict situation had come untimely, otherwise their opinions were not disagreeable. And that
they attacked the leadership. The timing and way they conducted was not right.

So they went and said that the leadership should go down and be replaced, we shall have a scientific socialism and
we know about it. And the other side disagreed that Yohannes etc - the leftists- should rule and we thought it was
opportunistic talking only about the leadership.

Their mistake was their arguing on the leadership than reshape the line, and nobody who knew of it did not
oppose changing our ways. The situation started growing widely and that Musie was hit, as if we too sanctioned it.
What we wanted was taking the right road, recognize the weakness of the traditional leadership and demanded a
congress be made and new leadership to be elected. We did not have a programme or constitution and we had the 3
united fronts working in their own rules that the congress becomes our lead.

But there came confusion in the front and the leadership was not obeyed and at that time the Ethiopians came on us
in Sahel, the 13 day war. Instead of guerrilla warfare we were forced to fight holding positions.

Petros Selomon and Sebhat Efrem were with the leftists-Menka at the beginning and were thus imprisoned, and that
is the first time I saw imprisoning of them, as they had wanted to imprison the leadership. Now all of a sudden,
Selomon recognized that these people at the end would break his post and take it, and turned against them.
The front had now split into three groups. One was the Menka who claimed that the leadership was old with no
knowledge and should be changed to scientific socialism etc.

The second was Selomon's group whose region Hamasien were numerous as they were in the ridge to the front, the
Semenawi Bahri. When one joined the front one who knows him join too and the geographical location attracted it.
These big numbers were the supporters of Selomon. These were against Issayas and the Menka, even though they
sided with the Menka at the beginning. They had claimed Selomon was to be killed, but they did not want to glorify
Selomon. They started saying Selomon is no different from the others in the leadership and they should be changed.
When Selomon realized this he came to opposition to them and had to come back to the leadership mould again.
Now the leadership and their supporters built a united front.

Selomon was earlier attacking the Akele Guzai, then changed and supported the Menkae and again attacked both
sides. He was a good and active organizer of people, and started imprisoning fighters.

The third group said the leadership was feudalistic but should be changed systematically. This would widen the
split between the Hamasien and Akele Guzai. So it was an uneasy alliance. There were Serae too but we did not
know them, being too few.

We started talking to Issayas and others that these two groups are dangerous. We cannot complain on Selomon and
the feudalists as we are surrounded wholly by it. It is a secondary issue which will get better with education and time,
we cannot oppose all these peasants. There must be an alliance and this extreme leftism will crush us so we have to
create a solid organisation. We cannot teach communism with the mostly peasants and we started organising.

This is what eventually created the Party inside the front. Wedi Selomon and others realized where it was leading
and changed sides. Yohannes-Menka was a man of fists, just like Issayas. But Issayas was a good military leader
who maintained the balance and was aware of the social traditions. He knew where power was to be taken.

We had united with PLF 1 while the situation was going on and these were in between and eventually took sides of
the third group. And some of their leadership, particularly Romadan had a big roll. He had balanced opinions and
free from regionalism and religion and far sighted, and Ibrahim Afa, Ali Said etc were with him.

There had to be a structure because it was a united front and a secret socialist party was created and it went on
getting bigger and took over. When the Menkae became imprisoned, it can be said that the rest dispersed. The
Menkae did not have a big support and there was much persecution by Selomon.

Our position was that we opposed Selomon's group and the extreme leftism that came, and being in between was
considered biased and was dangerous and that's why we organized and Isayas and Romadan were key in organising
it. And that became the totally dominant force throughout being the instrument of control and leadership at the
beginning. There were no more Menkae or Yemin. As time went by, the leadership role got less and instrument of
control got bigger.

Petros and Sebhat had been with the Menkae and when imprisoning started, they changed positions saying the
Menkae were trying to take power not for the better of the revolution. Now that we know them, it is us who shall
charge them and did so. They were instrumental in organising it and also the secret Party.

The Menkae were imprisoned for a long time and in 1979 when there was no more support for them, a military
committee was formed, the military tribunal. The party was formed in 1975 and by 1979 it was totally dominating.
The Menkae were charged and killed in secret and I did not know. Nobody was told when the killings were done and
they were alive in the congress of 1976. Some were freed in 1978 as Werku was freed and was brought to us. Maybe
they were killed and we heard it much later to justify their case, we did not know. That is when I heard and it was not
officially. Those who knew the whole secret are not more than 5 or 7.

Because I was in the Zena (news) group, it was basically the center of ideology and materials to read. It was after
1976 that the political office of the Party was formed. When the girls Abeba, Werku and Maasho were freed 1976
and brought to us that we shall indoctrinate them. I tried to explain to them that both sides were incorrect, Selomon
being Feudal and the Menka being extremist. Selomon was at his highest. I told them we cannot erase feudalism now
and we cannot fight it head on, but with education and time. But this extremism is dangerous for the front and lead to
its collapse. Dehab and Aberash were not freed and imprisoned with the rest because they did not repent and
believed their cause was just.

The leadership were few and the issue was taken at that level and supposedly trusted by the fighters to do the right
thing. The Executive Committee, the Politburo was formed then and made the decision, I was member of the Central
Committee. Things like that were secret as it was a military front.

There were two parallel organisations in the front. The Party was secret and had its political office, i.e the Politburo,
and they also had a Central Committee. And the front had its politburo and Central Committee. I was member of the
latter, the mass organisation, and never in the secret Party's committee. They did not trust the educated fearing they
would topple them.

Some of the secret politburo members were Isayas, Romadan, Ibrahim Afa, Ali Said Abdella, Haile Durue, Alamin.
Mesfin Hagos was there at one time. This led to absolute authority of the leader.

Q. In the 'Destructive Movement of 1973' supposedly by Isayas, it states that the first female fighters of EPLF were
having problems of upbringings and origins, and that they were spoiled. Was that the fact you saw?

This is just false accusations. They were with my ganta from the start until they were imprisoned. We were not
interested on others origins and were thinking in international socialist ways. They were not in leading positions
either. They were idealists like all of us. Once they were convinced their group were right and did not want to go
against their comrades. Werku and Masho in our ganta, Dehab and Aberash in another ganta.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Vol.1 No 2
Jan – Feb 1974
Sweden Branch

This monthly journal is published for the first time inside the contested territory by the Eritrean
Liberation Front-People's Liberation Forces (ELF-PLF) * and Eritrean Liberation Forces. There
is no doubt that the publication of this monthly journal is a turning point in the development of
the struggle against Ethiopian subjugation and U.S. Imperialistic domination.

The main goal of Fitwerari is to acquaint the peoples of Eritrea with the fundamental character of
the struggle, the principles and political line derived therefrom. Thereby enabling the masses to
grasp progressive principles and correct political line which consequently would promote unity
amongst the masses and enable them to condemn unequivocally and fight courageously in
crushing U.S. Imperialism end their loyal servants Ethiopian Feudalists.

The peoples of Eritrea for a long time have resisted Amharan Feudalism and U.S. Imperialism
first through peaceful means and later in a higher development of their struggle have taken up
arms. The peoples of Eritrea are waging a protracted warfare and in conducting this warfare they
have to develop correct national strategy and political line free of religious, clan and egoistic
considerations. To satisfy this demand a vanguard party is essential. The organ of this party is

The function of a Vanguard within a front is to advance forward, lead, guide and destroy the
enemy. The party that wages the struggle to counter this oppressions is known as the Vanguard
In brief we called this journal Fitwernri to state out clearly our principles and political lines; to
formulate the correct path of the Eritrean struggle, and to serve as a mouth piece and echo of the
gallant combatants and the people at large who are annihilating the enemy.

Hither the word Fitwareri was used as a rank in the Feudal hierarchy. But we use it in a literal
sense of fighting and leading as the vanguard and not at all in the reactionary context as a rank in
the feudal hierarchy. Our readers should note when we speak of Fitwerary that it is with a new
revolutionary context and it should be understood with that spirit.

* The Eritrean Liberation Front-People's Liberation Forces (ELF-PLF) indicates to the PLF
otherwise known as EPLF.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
August 29, 1973
Pavia, ITALY


This is a joint declaration of Eritrean for Liberation in Europe (EFLE), Eritreans
for Liberation in North America (EFLNA) and the General Union of Eritrean Students (GUES-
CAIRO) concluded at the Fourth Annual Congress of EFLE held in Pavia Italy from: August
25-29, I973. The declaration is hereafter referred to as the "Pavia Declaration."
We, the representatives of EFLE, EFLNA, and GUES-Cairo meeting at the Fourth Annual
Congress of EFLE in Pavia, Italy, from 25-29 August I973, would like to take this opportunity
to declare the common guiding principles of our organizations and affirm our genuine desire
and determination to coordinate our activities and work towards principled unity of all
progressive Eritrean organisations engaged in ensuring the continuation and intensification of
the heroic struggle of the Eritrean masses for a true national liberation headed and guided by
the Eritrean Liberation front-Peoples Liberation Forces, the only genuine Vanguard of the
Eritrean struggle for national independence.
Thus, the EFLE, EFLNA and GUES-CAIRO, reaffirm their complete adherence of the
following principles


(I} The right of the Eritrean people for national liberation is a just struggle that every
progressive Eritrean should support. We firmly believe that in this vital struggle of the Eritrean
people for national liberation, there should not be, and cannot be any neutral position. We are
either not against or for the genuine emancipation of our masses. We are therefore, neither
spectators nor sympathizers of the Eritrean struggle but active and committed members whose
activities and committments are geared towards the realization of the final Victory of the
Eritrean workers and peasants, the motive forces of the Eritrean Revolution.

(2) We recognize that the struggle of the Eritrean people for freedom and independence is part of
the struggle of the oppressed peoples of Africa, Asia and Latin America against colonialism,
Imperialist, Zionism, and national reaction. We, therefore, believe that the content and guiding
principles of the Eritrean revolutionary struggle should be anti-colonial, anti-imperialist, anti-
zionist and against domestic reaction.
The Eritrean revolutionary struggle should be mass-based i.e. popular, democratic, secular and
with internationalist outlook.

(3) We strongly condemn the so-called "revolutionary council" of the Eritrean Liberation Front
for its anti-people, counter-revolutionary and fascistic program, of a "liquidation" of the Eritrean
revolutionary Vanguard and terrorizing the masses who are fighting for freedom and

(4) We further condemn the activities of the handful lackeys of the so-called "revolutionary
council" who arrogantly call themselves General Union of Eritrean Students (GUES-BAGDAD).
We call upon the misled members of this defiant organization to reject GUES- Bagdad and its
reactionary policy and leadership and join hand with us in the interest of the Eritrean
revolutionary struggle.

(5) We recognize the Eritrean Liberation Front-People's Liberation Forces (ELF-PLF) as the only front that
represents the interest of the Eritrean masses for genuine national liberation. We hail the ELF-PLF as the Vanguard
of the Eritrean revolutionary struggle. We fully endorse the programs and activities of the ELF-PLF and reaffirm
our committment to its ideals.

(6) We pledge to work towards the mobilization and unity of all progressive Eritreans and
Eritrean organizations on the basis of the above mentioned principles in order to strengthen the
Eritrean revolution and its Vanguard the ELF-PLF for the final victory of the Eritrean masses.

The EFLE, EFLNA and GUES-CAIRO declare that the following continue to be the aims of
these sisterly organizations:
(1) To mobilize all progressive Eritrean and Eritrean organizations under the above mentioned
principles for the purpose of working towards the final Victory of the Eritrean revolution lead
by the mass-based ELF-PLF.
(2) To intensify our political, financial and material support to the ELF-PLF, and above all
support the struggle correctly by joining the heroic fighters in the armed and political
(3) To intensify political education among members in order to widen our world outlook for the
interest of our revolution, which is anti-colonial, anti-imperialist, anti-zionist and against
domestic reaction.
(4) To affirm our full support for the heroic struggle of the peoples of Africa, Asia and Latin
America and other progressive and democratic movements in the Capitalist countries in their
common struggle against imperialism. We pledge to work hand in hand with all progressive
organizations wherever we are.
(5) We will intensify our activities regarding the task of propagating the cause of the Eritrean
revolutionary struggle to all progressive groups, organizations and countries.

G) The EFLE, EFLNA and GUES-CAIRO solemnly declare that they shall consistently adhere to
the principles and aims inspired by the revolutionary struggle of the Eritrean people under the
leadership of the ELF-PLF, we have accordingly agreed to take the following measures:
(1) To achieve full solidarity and eventual unity among our three sisterly organizations and to
initiate effective and concrete democratic measures against all forces that attempt to subvert
and jeopardise the ELF-PLF, the Vanguard of the Eritrean revolutionary struggle.
(2) To offer determined support to the intensification of our revolutionary struggle by continuing
our efforts towards the coordination of our activities in political education and other activities
necessary for strengthening our committment of the ELF-PLF.
(3) To set up a committee of the three (one from each organization) that would study the form
that the merge of our three organizations will be taking. The committee should decide the
time and place of its meeting and present the final agreement to its respective organizations
for approval.
(4) Until the formation of such world-wide federation is attained the three sisterly organizations
have agreed to work very closely and try to coordinate the activities as much as possible.

Long Live the Heroic Struggle of the Eritrean masses for National Liberation.
Long Live the ELF-PLF the Vanguard of the Eritrean Revolutionary Struggle.
Long Live the struggle of the oppressed peoples of the world.
Down with Ethiopian colonialism, U.S. Imperialism, Israeli Zionism and Domestic Reaction.
Victory, to the Eritrean Masses
Long Live the Spirit of the Pavia Declaration.