(The following is extracted from Dr. Aleme Eshete’s paper)
In January 1990 EPLF or Shaabia, then a close military ally of Woyane) had in collaboration with the OLF and the Sudanese army invaded Assosa in Western Ethiopia. On that date Shaabia was all-powerful since its victory of Afabet in 1988 and the destruction of the famous Nadew division. Following its victory of Shire in February 1989, the TPLF had on its part liberated the whole of Tigrai in 1989 without any resistance from Sergeant Legesse Asfaw who took the road to Addis Ababa.. We were in the last days of the Cold War under the Glasnost of Gorbaciov. While the U.S imperialism multiplied its support to theShaabia-Woyane, the collapsing Soviet Union of Gorbaciov had abandoned Menghistu..The EPLF and TPLF were now full of arms and confidence counting the days when they will occupy Asmara and Addis Ababa respectively.
It was in that context that the EPLF had marched accompanied by the army and tanks of another former ally -the Sudan- as well as a few members of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) to occupy Assosa, capital of the Beni Shangul Awraja, and inhabited by the Nilotic Berta, a largely Arabic speaking largely Muslim group, (but also by the Sese, the Mao etc), whom the LF, as former Welega Galla aristocracy, considered an inferior race whom they called “black Galla!” claimed as Galla territory.1 We remember the claim of the Jote brothers who were among the Galla princes descendants of the Galla monarchies established at the end of the Galla invasion (1520’s to 1855) taking the place of the Gada system: The primitive Galla communal Gada system of the pastoralist nomadic Borana had given place to a settled society with a hereditary aristocracy following the introduction of private land property and a ruling class, exploiting not only peasant gebaro labor but also gold mines of the region and controlling the Sudan-Ethiopia caravan trade including a lucrative gold and slave trade. Upon Fascist occupation of Ethiopia (1936), the Jote brothers were among the rival Galla princes who subdivided and governed the Leqemt-Gore region paying tribute to Addis Ababa since the recon quest of the region by Menelik. There were as yet no clear-cut provinces of Welega and Ilubabor. Assosa was being governed since the days of Menelik as an autonomous region by its local ruler, Sheikh Hojele, paying tribute to Addis Ababa, which warded off the Galla threat.
Upon Fascist occupation, the Jote brothers will exploit the occasion to claim anew the rich caravan trade link of Assosa and subsequently end Assosa autonomy with a brutal military invasion forcing Berta native chief Sheik Hojele into exile. (See Amharic letter of the Jote brothers to the Fascist Italian governor -Italian State Archives)
The objective of January 1990 EPLF-OLF march and invasion of Assosa was therefore, other than the robbery of banks and other infrastructure installations in the area, was to chase out the highland “Amhara ” peasant victims of famine or otherwise poor peasants who had following the millenary south-north, north south movement of peoples and the contact between Gojam, Gondar and the countries south of the Abbai, pre- and post-Galla, mainly Welega, crossing the Abbai to try their fortune in trade and agriculture. The official resettlement programme of famine stricken highland peasants to the sparsely populated hot western lowlands had started under Haile Selassie’s government and amplified, as we know, under the military Derg. At the end of the 1980’s. There were said to be fifty settlement villages in Assosa, largely Derg improvised and imposed collectivized villegized settlements, counting some 80,000 settlers.
The other EPLF-OLF objective was to chase out the 42000 thousands of Sudanese refugees the border town of Assosa who were being cared for by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. The Khartoum government accused these refugees of serving as the source of military recruitment for the SPLA. And hence the collaboration of the Khartoum government in the invasion of Ethiopian territory.
So upon arrival in Assosa the EPLF and OLF fighters had divided the population of Assosa by ethnic and linguistic identity. The Tigrigna speaking settlers were separated from the rest to be taken back to Tigrai, which, in retrospect, makes one strongly suspect the presence among the armed invaders of the Tigrai Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) – another offspring of the EPLF strategy for the tribal dismemberment of Ethiopia, which EPLF armed and organised since TPLF inception in 1975 The Amharic speaking peasants of “Gojam Sefer” were separated and told to leave the country in five days These poor peasants included some who have settled there for generations. They were told that they had come to liberate Assosa as a Galla territory. The peasants had naturally responded this was their country where they have lived some for decades, where they have toiled to earn what ever they have earned as farmers or as small traders, and that they had nowhere to go. They had particularly targeted the Amharic speakers of “Gojam sefer” (“Gojam town”) the area inhabited mainly by the Gojamese who were treated as “neftegna” armed colonizers.
Following this, early on Tuesday (15 Tir or January 1990) the EPLF/OLF armed men had called on every tucul in Gojam Sefer inviting all – men, women and children, to an urgent assembly. When the people arrived, they took them to a school building and divided them into two classrooms. here were among the invited peasants pregnant women, mothers with newly born babies, as well as children and men and women in ad vanced ages. Then
the EPLF/OLF and certainly also TPLF forces ordered the doors of the class rooms closed and those inside were brutally massacred by hand bombs and launchers, following which the school building was put on fire. Thos who managed to run away were searched and gunned down. Among the estimated 300 dead were men, women children, and newly born babies. Many others had survived with heavy wounds and mutilations. It was the tale as told by these videotaped survivors that the world has come to know about the Assosa massacre.
The other victims of the EPLF-OLF invasion were the southern Sudanese refugees in Ethiopia who were gunned and terrorized to flight in the direction of the Sudan where they were received by the Khartoum government’s armed killers. The UNHCR was well aware of all that happened in Assosa. And yet in the UN in the West complete silence.
The EPLF itself had confirmed its Assosa massacre through no other but its leader Issayas Afework:
“Within the framework of our co-operation with the Oromo Liberation Front The situation created by the destruction of communication installations, State mines Surveying installations, witnesses a political and military development that cannot be underestimated.”
See also Radio Broadcast reports, Africa ME/0733 B/2, Voice of the Broad Masses of Eritrea in Amharic 1630 GMT 3 April 1990)
“The offensive of Assosa was launched by the OLF and EPLF units. This is not the first time we have operated in the area. Our relations and co-operation with the OLF and various other forces are known to everyone. Due to the joint offensive launched, it was possible to bring the area under the control of the OLF.”3
The OLF gave further details on the Assosa massacre. In its communiqué of January 10, 1990 the OLF said that their forces for the liberation of “western Oromia” (mark the total exclusion of Berta and other Nilo-Saharan Ethiopian inhabitants of Beni Shangul) had won victory over the government forces of the Derg in the Assosa region between January 3 and 7 killing 500 soldiers. OLF claimed to have taken complete control of Assosa, through a report of January 11. Eventually Assosa was reconquered (26 tir, February 3 1990) by the Derg and the EPLF-OLF forces had taken to flight;
Let me quote some basic declaration of OLF extracted from its media finance by EPLF and I will finalize my comments shortly. The OLF says
” However democratic it is, no alien will give independence to the Oromo people. It is
foolishness to hope for that;
If we heard this from its radio broadcast, why do some people believe OLF will abandon its agenda and trust the opposition groups? It clearly is telling us quoted above “how democratic it is no alien will give independence to the Oromo people..” Is not the Ethiopian Opposition groups considered alien by OLF? It also have arrogant, silly and unchangeable agenda which describe its own agenda in a clear way through the EPLF financed Radio of Oromo broadcast telling us from its past broadcast and present broadcast as the following “One can only liberate oneself. Like all other peoples, only the Oromos will liberate themselves and establish their own system of rule”. Now, I ask Dr.Gelawdewos Araya to explain us how OLF can work together with Ethiopians with such a stand? Let me also bring some remaining issue about the OLF stand and some tribal parties included in the opposition parties and elsewhere in the Ethiopian struggle with Dr.Aleme Eshete’s view on tribal parties and other issue and I will conclude saying hope I am not violating my Dear teacher, leader prof.Aleme Eshete’s copy Wright. I only did this to educate and debate. Please read the following how OLF, TPLF, EPLF and other tribal parties definition of oppressed tribe and the oppressive tribe in Ethiopian politics.