From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Tue Dec 02 2008 - 05:37:12 EST
By Hidru Zere,
Ato Micheal Weldemicheal, 74, is an elderly who relentlessly and courageously joined the secretly organized nationals who served in Eritrea's Struggle for Liberation. What follows is an excerpt of the interview Hidri Magazine conducted with him.
Q: How did you come to know about the Eritrean Revolution?
It was in the mid 1960s, when the Armed Struggle was been joined by a great number. Members of the Eritrean Liberation Fighters mobilized many citizens to take their part in the Armed Struggle. I was, hence, recruited in 1964 to carry out different missions such as transferring various messages and information from and to Keren and the armed struggle.
Q: How exactly were you involved in the tasks?
Our main job was to transport weapons, money, clothes and other properties, in addition to helping the newly recruited cross the enemy lines to the liberation struggle. In 1968-69, we transported rifles, ammunition, bombs, and other weapons confiscated from the enemy, donkey laden to the Liberation Fighters. In addition, in the late 1960s, we took university students and other youths who willingly enlisted from Eritrea and Ethiopia to join the struggle. However, because we were not well organized, we became victims of enemy atrocities. Thus, disappointed and hopeless, some of my comrades fled Keren to Massawa and Agordat.
Q: As people's understanding of the Armed Struggle was limited in the early days of the struggle, were you forced to participate in the task or you really believed in the principles of the struggle?
At first, the cadres led by the late Tesfagiorgis, were trying to persuade and convince us about the justice of the Armed Struggle. Later, we witnessed the regime's atrocities and massacre on our people. In the early 1960s, the Hailesselassie Regime destroyed many villages, confiscated lots of properties and massacred civilians; then followed the massacre of the villages of Besigidra and Ouna. There were similar other incident that happened in 1968. When the enemy was defeated in any battle, they killed civilians, out of whom I buried 200. Hence, these brutal acts of the regime stirred up my hatred towards the regime. Eritreans showed their support to the armed struggle by contributing sustenance to the fighters. People were really devoted to the struggle. I personally housed and took care of an injured fighter for over a week in an enemy controlled area.
Q: When did you start working with the EPLF?
It was in the mid of 1970s that the EPLF fighters stationed in the then Senhit region and its environs to mobilize people. Active members of the so called "9th Botalion" including educator Mebrahtu Ghebremedhin (martyred), Ogbai, and Filipos Weldeyohannes (now Major General) and others were the major ones. But, we were strongly warned by the ELF members not to extend our hands to the EPLF. Eventually, however, people came to know more about EPLF and its righteous objectives. Hence, in 1977 in the battle for the Liberation of Keren, people organized themselves in units and participated in the war in transporting injured fighters and burying the fallen heroes.
Q: How did you later pursue with the task?
After the strategic withdrawal (1978), our organization was strengthened. We were briefed more on our missions and tasks by cadres such as Tsegai Habtemariam, Habte Abraha, Kahsai Andai and others. We knew nothing about which units they belonged to. Later, we came to know that some of them belong to the combatant units, others were intelligence operatives and still others were members of land mining unit. As time passed we were introduced to more members of the Front. And we were better reorganized.
Q: After you regrouped under the leadership of the EPLF, what exactly were your objectives?
As a continuation of my mission with the ELF, I carried out different messages; I became chairman of the internally organized group that worked behind enemy lines. I was also in charge of the road-crossing activities where we had to help army members or any civilians cross the main Asmara-Keren Road in spite all the strongly defended frontlines and check points.
Q: But how were you able to cross the roads behind enemy lines?
Before you decide to cross the roads, one needs to thoroughly watch every movement. And that is what we exactly did. We also had to be so careful not to leave any mark or footprints that could be traced. On the other hand, if we wanted to have information about the enemy, like if there was any mobility, we erased any footprints and watched for the new footprints; then we reported it to the concerned authorities.
Q: What did you transport across the roads?
We transported and sent various goods: sugar in great amount, battery, stationeries and others. We also led battalion; or brigades who were assigned for special missions behind the enemy lines. Most of the crossings were carried out at night. If needed, fighters had to disguise themselves as civilians and cross the path with us during the daytime. Their guns and other ammunitions were loaded on camel backs camouflaged with straw.
Q: Wasn't it risky and liable to danger?
Exactly! However, we all devoted ourselves to the struggle. Thus, we were committed and perseverant. Even though most of the missions were successfully completed; there was failure as well. There were times when I was nearly caught. At times they would let me bribe, and sometimes I would fall on their knees and beg for mercy. I still remember the times when I was flogged brutally almost to death while my comrades got martyred in the process.
Q: Were there comrades who were martyred during a mission you were involved in?
Yes. After the strategic withdrawal, once I was accompanying Leteberhan, head of the so called 06 division, to Keren along with other comrade, Yohannes Tekie. A few meters away from our destination, we were detected by the regime's security forces. They fired at us, killing Leteberhan. But Yohannes and I escaped. The same incident happened to me on another occasion while I was leading the above mentioned fighter and Mihret (another fighter). This time both fighters were martyred while I, the unlucky man survived! I soon searched their pockets for the necessary documents and handed it to the concerned authorities. If those documents were revealed to the enemy, we would have all been in danger! What made me mad was the sight of the corpses of the martyrs and that I left unburied as I had to rush to disappear from the spot with the documents.
Q: Many were martyred accomplishing their national duty. Are there any whom you particularly remember?
I generally remember all the martyrs who could not see free and liberated Eritrea! But I also recall comrades who passed away while they were on duty with me. Such as Kebreab Welde, Asgedom, Zermariam, both well-reputed cadres, educator Mebrahtu Gebremedihn who substituted Leteberhan, Salim Idris, Habteselassie, Solomon, Kibreab, Goitom Tekle, and Tsega Gebrehawariat, all active members of the Front. I might also have forgotten some.
Q: After Eritrea's Independence, did you meet any of the fighters whom you had worked with?
Some came to Keren to pay me a visit and others because they are assigned here (Keren), among whom include the late Major General Said Ferej (Wedi Ferej).
Q: When did you get acquainted with Said Ferej?
I was introduced to Wedi Ferej during the road crossing task. After the collapse of the Nadew Command, the division commanded by Wedi Ferej (52nd division) remained in the valleys of Ewal, near Keren, after they had maneuvered in the highlands. The division, including myself, was only 100 meters away from the enemy's trenchs. We crossed the main Asmara-Keren road and joined another brigade in Balwa, around Elabered. It was at this moment that I met the late Major General Said Ferej.
Q: There were around 10 checkpoints from Keren to Elabered. How did you crosse these risky lines unnoticed?
While the entire brigade was crossing the main road, we were only 100-150 meters away from the enemy bases. So, I would say either they did not hear us as it was late in the night (11 pm) or they were frightened. When I recall it now, it was amazing! However, later in the mid 1980s the way people were organized was so sophisticated that even the militias who were conscripted by the Derg Regime were secretly organized by the EPLF cadres. So in case of important missions or crossing of the guarded roads, they cooperate with us in monitoring the area and supplying necessary information on mobility.
Q: How come you were never suspected?
I was. Especially after the fall of the Nadow Command, the regime learned that our soldiers had crossed the roads. And they started to inquire about me. They ordered my wife and my neighbors to hand me over. They even arrested a man named Gerezgher Asfedai whom they mistook on me. But they released him after a day or so of investigation. Finally, after they set a trap on me, I was caught. They brought me to Forto, Keren, beat me severely till I fainted. They broke my arm, my jaws and teeth. I was been carried on a stretcher for interrogation. They held me responsible for the defeat of the Derg Regime in the Nadow Command. I tried to defend myself, and I asked them to bring me a witness. But the man who betrayed me was threatened with death by the EPLF leaders if he witnessed against me.
So, when they could not find any evidence, they kept me in prison for further interrogation. I bribed the head of the guards of the prison cell; I gave him 200 Bir. Hence I got a transfer from Forto to the Keren First Police Station. What is amazing is that I was receiving and sending messages while I was still in the cell. However, the shocking news of my death sentence came after 4 months again. Upon hearing this news, some of my townmen bribed head of the prison, to the inspectors, the security agents, the police and others paying them all 21 thousand Bir.
Q: So the case was over then after?
I knew they released me only temporarily. I was sure that I would be back to the prison anytime. It was arranged that I should get a pass to Hagaz through a faked ID as Fessaha Jawj, head of the militia. When I was in prison, all my sheep and goats had been confiscated. Thus, I took advantage of that to ask fund from my relatives in Hagaz. When I succeeded with the plan, I made my way to Agordat which had already been liberated. I then proceeded to Sahil and was rushed to Ararib Referal Hospital and was saved from permanent disability.
Q: How was your relation with the people of your town?
The people served the Revolution faithfully; some of them were interacting secretly, the militias were supplying information to the fighters, others were transporting goods on horses and so on. As for me, my house was at the outskirt of the town, so I did not have much interaction with the town people. This helped me a lot in carrying out my plans secretly. I remember one incident that happened near our area. A security member of the enemy (spy) was on his way back to Keren. We recognized him as a spy and asked him to stop. He refused. And there were no fighters around to report to. So, we decided to finish him off. Remember, we had no guns. We stoned him to death and buried him in a valley and handed his documents to our leaders.
Q: How about discussing your family?
I am not lucky in establishing a family. My wife bore me four children, two boys and two girls, three of whom including my wife died within three weeks. My only son was raised in an orphanage and was adopted. Later I married again and have one daughter who is already married.
Q: What was your wife's contribution and support in your assignment?
She was very unique. It was her firm belief and patriotism that encouraged me to carry on my secret missions. She took care of fighters who had to stay in the village. She patiently waited for me when I had to be away from my family for weeks at a time on my task. In short, if it was not for her, I would not have survived.
Q: How has life been treating you after independence?
Thanks to the Almighty! I was able to see free Eritrea. However, honestly speaking, my expectations are not met. I know the country is passing through a lot of hardships and obstacles. Yet I can't face the challenges of life as I am aged. Besides, I am still waiting to get certificate/recognition of my contribution in the Armed Struggle.
Source: Hidri No. 41(translation Daniel A. Tekie)
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