Massacre of conscripts at the centre of Asmara

On the 3rd of April 2016, many conscripts were killed and wounded at the crowded centre of Asmara city in Eritrea, by the military police who were on guarding duty.  The Conscripts have been in Khor Menae concentration/military training camp in the west of Eritrea. While in the concentration/ military training camp, they were subjected to extreme inhumane treatment and miserable living conditions. These conscripts were rounded up by the Eritrean army from different parts of the country and had passed through several detention centres before they ended up in in the Khor Menae concentration/military training camp. They have reportedly been subjected to tortures and inhumane treatment in the detention facilities.

The news of the shooting and killing of conscripts in the heart of Asmara has been going on now for more than a week. A women who came from Asmara after the incident has confrmed to me the happening of the tragedy. After completing their military training, they were being transported to Assab, East of the country aboard about 15 trailers and buses. In route, the convoy transporting them passed via the centre of Asmara city. The conscripts were so desperate and outraged that they engaged in suicidal acts. Out of desperation and outrage, they started jumping from the trucks carrying them. According to the source the conscripts started jumping beginning from Keren town, about 90 KMs away from Asmara while the trucks were moving at high speed. Many had died by crushing on the ground before even reaching Asmara.

Some of the conscripts managed to alert their family members and friends of their itinerary in advance and family members and friends waited in the area of Abashawl. Abashwal is a crowded part of the city. At this point, some of the youngsters who gathered at that location to show their solidarity with the conscripts, threw stones at one of the buses and shattered its wind shield glass. As the result the bus was forced to stop blocking, the convoy. Conscripts started jumping in mass. Those who were onboard the buses broke windows and jumped through the windows. The crowd on the ground helped the escaping conscripts which resulted in chaos and mixing of conscripts and the crowd.

The crowd chanted in support of the conscripts and in condemnation of the guards who were beating the conscripts with clubs. Women cried for their sons and daughter. The armed guards in the convoy responded with extreme brutality. They opened fire on the conscripts indiscriminately. According to the source one of the most disgusting scene was the shooting of a female conscript while in air. The way her body fell shocked the crowd. Tens were killed and tens wounded including civilians. According to the source, one of the victims was from the village of Geremy, in Maekel zone. Already his family have been informed their son’s death. The wounded ones are getting treatment in the of Halibet hospital.

According to the source, this tragedy has sent shock waves to, and angered, the Asmara residents in unprecedented way. People are saddened and confused. As the result, the Asmara population is seeking the intervention from God by praying day and night every day.

Shooting conscripts is daily practice in Eritrea.

This tragedy has drawn public attention not because of its criminal nature but for being committed in front of the public, in the heart of the capital Asmara. Otherwise there is nothing new in this incident as such crimes have committed since the birth of the Eritrean revolution. The Eritrean revolution and the Eritrean regime are best known for killing, torturing, and detention of innocent people. It is a norm, practice and policy for the Eritrean regime to shoot and kill. This policy and practice did not start overnight. This practice and policy is as old as the Eritrean revolution. However, the EPLF (Eritrean Peoples’ Liberation Front, the forerunner of PFDJ) and the PFDJ (Peoples’ Front for Democracy and Justice) regime are the most brutal in enforcing such policies and committing such crimes. During the struggle era, people were executed for various reasons. Civilians were tortured or abducted or killed in public to instill terror among the public. Fighters and civilians were tortured to death.

In 1978, Unable to get enough recruits to match the advancing Ethiopian army, the ELF (Eritrean Liberation Front) resorted to forced recruitment of men (women were exempted). Those who try to evade or escape the forced recruitment program were dealt with brutality. They were shot at, tortured or if they manage to escape, family members were recruited on their behalf, family members’ were properties confiscated, family members were arrested, detained and tortured. The EPLF on the other hand depended on the supply of human power from the TPLF (Tigray people Liberation Front) to full the shortage of human power and used to make mockery of ELF for its forced recruitment policy and practices. But surprisingly, immediately after its forces jointly with the forces of the TPLF defeated the ELF and drove out the ELF from the Eritrean field, the EPLF did not waste any time to adopt forced recruitment policy.

Not only that, but girls and women have become the target of the forced recruitment policy and practices. This is the first of its kind in the history of Ethiopia/Eritrea. Throughout history women were exempted from military obligations. I remember when the EPLF defeated the ELF, my district came immediately under the EPLF control. The first bad memory of the EPLF I have is the arrest of my mother and other women. The EPLF wanted to recruit my underage elder sister in its army. My sister hid somewhere to evade recruitment. The EPLF could not succeed to get my sister and abduct thus employed other weapons in its arsenal. It arrested and detained my mother together with other hundreds of women with similar cases. The women were arrested from the neighbouring villages and were made to walk to the village of Adi-neamen which was serving as a detention centre at the time. My mother was held there under bad conditions without sanitation, water and food.

What makes the arrest and detention of my mother even sad is already my father was also forcefully recruited in the army of the EPLF. As the result, my mother had taken the burden of nurturing and providing us, the children with our basic needs. We were very poor and life was extremely difficult that it posed existential threat to the family.  While faced with these difficulties and trying to cope with the situation, the EPLF comes to abduct the eldest child of the family and detains the only parent. As the result, though brief, we were orphaned. My mother was also struggling with her tuberculosis illness but this did not stop the EPLF from detaining her.

The EPLF followed the ELF’s policies and practices of forced recruitment with extreme brutality and aggressiveness.

  1. Families were required and forced to provide the EPLF all their children plus the father. Fertile wombs have turned barren,
  2. Those who try to escape were shot dead at the spot,
  3. Families of those who escaped or evaded recruitment were detained and tortured and all their properties looted, including land. There were instances where houses set on fire by the revolution for military recruitment evasion of family members.

 

After securing full control of the Eritrean territory and secession from Ethiopia, the forced recruitment policy and practices continued at wider scale and deeper level. During the struggle era, the revolution lacked the resources and capacity to implement its forced recruitment policy at the level and scale we are witnessing today due to the following reasons:

  1. The EPLF army was constantly engaged in battles with the Ethiopian army, thus it had limited time to allocate for rounding up and relatively limited administrative controls over areas it controlled and over movements and border crossing,
  2. People have the alternatives. Many families and particularly the youth fled to the towns which were under the control of the Ethiopian army. In the period, many towns such as Mendefera, Keren, and Keren exploded in population because of migration from the rural EPLF controlled areas to the towns,
  3. Many people migrated to the Sudan because it was much easier to cross to Sudan because as I mentioned above the EPLF lacked the resources and capacity to control movements to the level and scale it aspired to. Of course many citizens were intercepted and abducted while fleeing to Sudan or Saudi Arabia,
  4. Some people get armed by the Ethiopian army to take revenge against the EPLF.

Actually many retaliated against EPLF actions which posed a big challenge to the EPLF. Such actions at times forced the EPLF to be flexible and tactical to calm down the situation. Many youth and families in the Gash –Barka used to hide on the TPLF controlled areas such as Walkait

But now the Eritrean people are under full and strict control of the PFDJ regime.

  • The border with Ethiopian is closed because of the war footing and the tight control by the regime. In the past when people escape to Ethiopia, they were nationals with equal rights with the other Ethiopians. Actually quite a number of people who escape persecution by the Eritrean revolution moved deep into the Ethiopian territory for safety because people were not safe even under the Ethiopian army controlled territories in Eritrea.

What happened in the Asmara on the 3rd of April is not unique and separate incident. It is like every day phenomena. It is happening every day at all the border crossings, concentration/training camps, detention centres. The only difference is that this has happened in the heart of Asmara city, in front of family members by passers and standers. In the past, two other similar incidents happened in the vicinity of Asmara. One was in November 2004 in Adi-Abeito. Thousands of innocent citizens were rounded up at gun point from Asmara and its surroundings. They were all transported to the ware houses (turned to prison facilities) and dumped there. Some were driven by foot. The halls of the warehouses were not enough to accommodate such a huge crowd.  Both the halls and compounds of the facilities were packed with people under very bad conditions beyond their holding capacities. Neither water, food, clothing nor sleeping spaces were provided. It was a cold season in Asmara. Outrage, desperation, hunger, cold weather drove the detainees to take action that lead to breaking the fence to escape.

The army opened fire at the detainees indiscriminately. Tens of youths were killed and tens injured. Because it was night, residents of Asmara did not get the chance to witness the massacre. Moreover, Adi-Abeito is located at the northern end of Asmara. Thus even if it were during the day, there could not be much crowds as it is at the centre of the city.

The other one was 1994 when the army commanded by Futsum (Aka wedi-Member) opened fire at the disabled veteran fighters at Nefasit, 25 Km east of Asmara. These disabled veteran fighters demanded improvement on their living conditions. When their demands were unheeded, they demanded to meet President Issias Afwerki to discuss their conditions. Thus they embarked from their base in Mai- Habar, some on wheel chairs, others walking.

12 disabled fighters were killed and tens wounded. This news really saddened the Eritrean populace. The dead bodies remained lying on the road for long hours, from morning up to 6:00 PM. Even Ethiopian truck drivers from who used that route to transport goods from the port town of Massawa were shocked by the scene. Traffic on that route was blocked for the whole day.

 

By

Mussie Hadgu

Email: mussiehadgu1@gmail.com

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