THE EPLF PFDJ PLAN THE KUNAMA LAND HAS TO BE EMPTIED OF ITS KUNAMA PEOPLE Part 4 (RKPHA April 2001)
It has gradually becoming very obvious that, the EPLF initial plan to rid the Gash/Setit region of its native Kunama inhabitants in order to carry out the pre-planned “mechanised agricultural development” is entering its second phase.
According to the recent reports from the Kunama land, the EPLF/PFDJ government, following its decision to re-deploy its military from the future Temporary Security Zones (TSZ) inside Eritrea, is carrying out the most cruel, inhumane and massive displacing activity the Kunama people have ever experienced in their recent history.
After having prohibited all Kunama from approaching the Gash river to get potable water as well as water their livestock, the government officials are said to be speedily and forcefully removing the Kunama inhabitants, both from the southern as well as from the northern areas along the Gash river.
In the ancient Kunama villages of Boshoka, Bimbilna, Dekamere, Karina, Koitabia, Shambakko and Usiti there is said to be not a single Kunama left
In those Kunama villages, the withdrawing Eritrean military forces, have already resettled and are continuously allowing to settle only the Eritrean-Tigrians.
We believe, there are two major reasons for the Eritrean government officials to have taken such drastic measures.
A) The Kunama are to be removed from the basins of the river Gash and the Eri-Tigrians be resettled there because, due to the agreed rules applying to the TSZ as well as the presence of the UNMEE peace-keeping forces, the EPLF/PFDJ government’s initial plan of “mechanised agricultural development of the Kunama land” has been suspended and it is not to be carried out for the time being and therefore, if the Kunama people were left to live in their native villages along the Gash river basin, they would be a major hindrance to the government’s “agricultural development plans” in the future
Rumour has it that, already in the 1990s, as soon as the EPLF government had come to power and extended its control over the land administration policy in the Kunama territory, it had cunningly tried to remove the Kunama inhabitants of the village of Dokimbia by informing them that, according to the ecological estimates of the government’s engineers, their village was about to be flooded by the waters of the river Gash.
Innocently but very honestly, those Kunama villagers are said to have argued that, if the waters of Gash had never flooded Dokimbia in its long history, that was not going to happen then simply because the EPLF/PFDJ government had come to power.
B) The Kunama people have to be removed from the southern and northern parts of the river Gash because of security concerns.
The Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF), first and the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF), later, have always seen and accused the Kunama people of siding with the past and the present Ethiopian government.
As we have pointed out, time and again, in our “Perspectives”, there are no proven facts to support such allegations.
The motives some extremist members, from the both Eritrean armed-struggle groups, had brought to persecute the Kunama people were only and purely based on ethnic and territorial grounds.
The Kunama people, up to the recent times, have never been major players in the Eritrean politics. They had only been concerned with their ethnic and territorial matters and their major battleground has always been their ancestral land.
The Kunama ethnic group has never provoked and brought its neighbours into conflicts; it was rather the Kunama folk which has always been an object of jealousy because of its fertile land;
the Kunama ethnic group has never been attracted to or invaded its neighbours’ territories;
the Kunama ethnic group has never threatened its neighbours unless provoked;
the Kunama ethnic group members have never been known cattle raiders of their neighbours;
the Kunama ethnic group members have never been dissatisfied with their social and territorial matters and sought to emigrate to the other Eritrean regions to look for compensation unless external factors have compelled them;
the Kunama ethnic group members have never aspired for political or territorial domination;
the Kunama ethnic group members have never forcefully sought to settle in other Eritrean regions; they have always had either to put up with or fight back against the constant influx of new settlement seekers in their territory;
the Kunama has never been a betrayer but a constantly betrayed ethnic group;
the Kunama ethnic group has only known injustices coming, both from some of its neighbours as well as from the various past and the present rulers of Eritrea.
To blame the Kunama people of siding with the Ethiopian government and therefore, causing security concerns, is an absolute denial of their clean history.
To campaign for unity with Ethiopia, even using intimidating means;
side with the Ethiopian armed forces, city police and raiding commandos to burn the lowland villages and mass murder of many of their villagers;
combat the first Eritrean forces opposing the federation first and the Eritrean independence later and all the collateral causes and calamities many other Eritrean ethnic groups had to go through during those thirty long years of the Eritrean revolution are to be searched in the particular ethnic group which had played a very decisive role in the Eritrean political matters rather than accusing the innocent Kunama folk group of an imaginary “betrayal”.
The social, political, economic and territorial plights of Eritrea and of the Eritreans have always originated from the highland regions of Kebesa and this is a historical reality their people and rulers have to recognise, accept and bear the consequences.
The history and the consequences of the Eritrean federation and unity with the imperial Ethiopia; the divisions and civil wars during the Eritrean armed-struggle years; the ascendance to power of the EPLF and the subsequent formation of the PFDJ as the main body of the present Eritrean government, its politics of ethnic group exclusionism, control and domination over their cultures, lands and their traditional land ownership systems as well as all the presently being carried out harassment, displacement and collateral plights afflicting, mostly other Eritrean nationals than the Eri-Tigrians, are objectively verifiable proofs of the decisive involvement and decision-making role played by the Eri-Tigrians in the past and present Eritrean politics.
The present Eritrean government’s on-going “de-culturalisation” attempts on those other Eritrean ethnic groups and of the main-stream “Tigrigna culturaliastion” processes are all parts of the total Eritrean highlanders’ repetitive activities in our country.
It is, therefore, a very meagre excuse to blame the Kunama of siding with Ethiopia and with the Ethiopians when the major Eritrean political battle grounds have always been the highland regions of Akele-Guzai, Hamasien, Serae and their respective people.
It is time that the populations of these regions, their past and present political leaders and the entire EPLF/PFDJ government admit and recognise that, it was “thanks” to the lowlands
and to the lowland Eritreans, including the Kunama people, that we all Eritreans could sustain 30-hard-years of liberation struggle and got our independence.
It is time to recognise and admit that, today, only the Eritrean lowland population is being condemned to be still living as refugees in The Sudan, be a great part of the Diaspora, moved, removed, settled and resettled about, in their own country, native territories, towns and villages, though those same people were the architects of the Eritrean liberation and independence movement.
It is time to recognise and admit that, the social, political and economic stability of the three Kebesa regions of Akele-Guzai, Hamasien and Serae have never been decisively affected, like the lowland regions, not even during the entire length of the Eritrean armed-struggle years or following the ascension to power of the EPLF/PFDJ and its subsequent declaration of the “STATE LAND” which has been the major and the last stroke, particularly to the Kunama ethnic group.
The Kunama have been and are being deprived of their ancestral land and subjected to resettlement programs.
In fact, which Kebesa villages or their villagers have ever been moved, removed or purposely displaced by this government, a constant occurrence in the Gash/Setit regions?
Which Kebesa population and regions, bordering the Ethiopian state of Tigray, are considered to be of security concern, though the war was fought even there?
From the EPLF/PFDJ government’s official reports, we have yet to hear talk about the displacement and resettlement programs of the Kunama people.
The reports so far, on the Internally Displaced People (IDP), have only been either about those Eritreans expelled from Ethiopia (which we condemn) or about the Eritrean-Tigrians who used to live in the Badumma Plains and in many other parts of the Gash/Setit regions but had to flee and retreat to their highland home Kebesa regions before and during the recent Ethio-Eritrean war.
Today there is a lot of talk going on about the speedy return of the “displaced Eritrean population, “in time for the annual planting season” and there is a claim, on the part of the government, that a number of Eritrean civilian population is returning to the lowland regions, but we have yet to hear of and see pictures of the Eritrean returnees other than those of the highland Eri-Tigrians recognisable through their hair and dressing styles.
To our judgement, the present Eritrean government recognises, as internally displaced Eritreans, only those Eri-Tigrians who used to occupy the entire length of the Kunama region extending from the far-eastern Kunama border village of Tukul, till the far-western village of Om-Hajer, at the border with The Sudan.
Up to the beginning of the border conflict with Ethiopia, the number of the Eri-Tigrians living in the Gash/Setit regions were estimated as having already been well-over half-a-million compared to the about 150 to 200 thousand Kunama people.
Though a lot of those Eri-Tigrians have returned and are being allowed to return to many fertile parts of the Kunama territory along the river Gash, the government officials are said to be busily involved in removing the remaining Kunama from the same southern and northern parts of that river and concentrating them in the semi-arid plains of Darasa-Mena-Kutu (called also Asoka) and Ukaro, in the Gilba zone.
The former smaller villages in these areas are now said to be over-populated thus causing and adding more problems to the already existing extreme shortages of clean potable water.
The reasons behind the latest plan to remove the Kunama and resettle the Eri-Tigrians in the river Gash areas, is for the government to exercise more control over the Kunama people by deploying its own cadres, as unarmed militias and city police in those areas, according to the peace plan stipulated with the UNMEE authorities, to establish an Eritrean civilian administration within the TSZ.
The Eritrean government has made it sure that the Kunama be encircled, cut off and prevented from any access to and having any contact with their fellow-Kunama brothers and sisters living in the border areas of the Ethiopian state of Tigray.
The Eritrean government is deliberately ignoring the historical fact that, from time immemorial, the Eritrean Kunama have always had family ties with the Ethio-Kunama living in the state of Tigray.
Added to these are the Eri-Kunama, recently forced to flee their native land and seek for refuge in that Ethiopian state, following the Ethio-Eritrean war and the subsequent harassment of the Eritrean military.
Those Eri-Kunama, now living away from their families and relatives, are never mentioned, by the Eritrean government, as “displaced” simply because, we believe, they happen to be members of the Kunama ethnic group and therefore, Eritrean Kunama by birth and by all other rights.
If they are now living in the state of Tigray, compelled by individual a collective insecurity in their homeland, those Kunama have to be recognised, by the Eritrean government, as the new refugees needing a speedy return to their native land and villages.
The present attempts, by the Eritrean government, to bring about a new geographical and demographic division between the two Kunama communities, is a very subtle method to displace, disunite and create a total confusion and final destruction of the whole social structure of the Kunama ethnic group.
As we have already pointed out in our customs and traditions, the Kunama ethnic is very much based on its traditional matriarchal kinship system which implies that, no matter where a Kunama individual may live, he or she will always be recognised and accepted as a full member of the Kunama ethnic group.
The attempts, therefore, to separate the Kunama people, either geographically or demographically, does not break their kinship ties.
Politically however, it is an obvious and a very evil plan of the EPLF/PFDJ government which we totally condemn and shall be continuously condemning and appealing that it be reversed.
The question of the peaceful settlement of the Kunama ethnic group members in their own ancestral land, in their own native villages and with their own family and kinship ties, is a primordial and a “SINE QUA NON” factor before making any other plans, be they called
“mechanised agricultural developments” of the Kunama rural areas or forceful construction of cement buildings in their major villages or towns.
The human sector is the first factor to address.
The Eritrean government, by re-deploying its military forces from the TSZ, has to and must expect and recognise that, in the long run, new social, political, economic and territorial problems and changes are very likely to take place.
What are its future plans to face and cope with such eventualities?
From the very first day of the arrival, in the Kunama land, of the Jordanian contingent of the UNMEE, we were very suspicious of the initial behaviour of that “peace-keeping force” because of its affiliation with the EPLF/PFDJ government and its politics.
We were immediately proven right as the Jordanian forces, under the leadership of their well-known Col. Abdalla and with the very valuable advice and guidance of the Eritrean cadres, started to isolate, discriminate, harass, detain and maltreat the Kunama people.
We believe, the EPLF/PFDJ government has declared an open-ended war against the Kunama ethnic group as we consider that, its every activity in the Kunama land is always against the Kunama people.
One of our major concerns is our difficulty in identifying the proper location and specific mission of the Jordanian contingent of the UNMEE.
We have been informed that, at the moment, some units of the UN peace-keeping forces are stationed in the Kunama villages of Bimbilna, Karina, Karkasha and Shambakko.
According to the agreed plans, the presence and theactivities of the UN peace-keeping forces are to be limited within clearly specified areas known as the “TSZ” extending Km. 25 inside the Eritrean territory.
Apart from the Kunama village of Karina, which is in the southern part of the river Gash and therefore, possibly within the TSZ, the other three villages are well-inside the Kunama land and therefore, outside of and distant from the TSZ.
Why are then, the Jordanian UN peace-keepers and others, stationed in Bimbilna, Karkasha and Shambakko?
Is this not an obvious violation of the territorial rights of the independent and sovereign state of Eritrea?
How come the EPLF/PFDJ government has allowed and is allowing such a foreign invasion and tolerating their operations from within its own country?
Are there any other hidden EPLF/PFDJ’s reasons and interests which prioritise over its politico-diplomatic and territorial rights and claims?
We speculate that, since the Jordanian contingent has been carefully instructed and is being constantly guided and supported by the presence of a considerable number of the Eritrean military cadres, camouflaged in civilian appearances, the sovereignty of the Eritrean territory is not of an immediate concern to the present Eritrean government.
Its politics of tight territorial control over the Kunama land and the Kunama people are being safeguarded and therefore, the GOE does not feel that, a great part of its sovereign territory and a considerable numbers of its population are being practically occupied by foreign forces.
The very fact that, the present Eritrean regime demobilised its military forces from the TSZ, resettled and is allowing to settle only the Eri-Tigrians, after having removed and dislocated all the Kunama people from those same temporary security zones, is a clear proof that, the Eritrean government, for the time being, has neither territorial nor politico-diplomatic concerns as long as the Jordanian contingent and other friendly UN peace-keeping forces are carrying on with the same activities of the EPLF/PFDJ government, in the Kunama land and against the Kunama people.
April 2001 (RKPHA)