Interview with Idris Osman Glaidos Part II

Interviewed by: Günter Schröder - Khartoum, Sudan

Günter Schröder: You got military training in Syria and Iraq,

China and Cuba. What attempts were made to get into contact with the Soviet Union?

Well, with China and especially Cuba it stopped very early, but Syria and Iraq, they were our main source militarily for training and arms. With the Soviet Union, well, our offices there sent our memorandums to the Soviet embassies in Cairo and Damascus. But all this activity was in vain, because the Soviets at that time were favouring to continue, to maintain their relationship with Ethiopia.

I remember, in 1966 our forces attacked the refinery in Assab which was build by the Soviets. Then the Soviet magazine New Times had a very tough article concerning the Eritrean revolution.

They attacked us bitterly and they called us shifta, outlaws, who destroyed the refinery which is for the benefit of the people and so on. They attacked us bitterly, really. We send a memorandum referring to this article and this stand of the Soviet Union but no one answered it.

Günter Schröder: But later on, in the seventies contact between the ELF and the Soviet Union has been established?

Yes, this was through Aden, Aden played a role and at that time, the regime in Ethiopia was weak, the movement of the Eritrean revolution was very strong and the regime was suffering from many problems inside Ethiopia as well. So they tried to make some meeting. First they called ELF, EPLF, and even invited ELFPLF. They called these three organizations. The discussion was, in Democratic Germany, East Germany, in Berlin. This was in 1977, and a 2nd meeting in 1978.

But after that, the contact between the Soviet Union and the Eritrean Revolution was only with the ELF. And of course, at that time the ELF was a big organization, politically and in information the ELF was the biggest one, not only in the Arab world but all over the world and no doubt we were the biggest one. And also the leadership, they had formed secretly a party; they declared that this party is a Marxist-Leninist party, so there are some things to give a chance for this contact.

Günter Schröder: In 1969, after the Adobha Conference and after the General Command was formed, the Supreme Council started to split up. How did that come about?

After Adobha, the General Command did not say that they cancelled the Supreme Council; they did not declare that they had cancelled it. But they said, we ask the members of the Supreme Council to cooperate with us, especially in the external activities. And because of this, division came between the members of the Supreme Council. We considered that to be some kind of solution for the problem but Sabbe was not in favour of this decision.

He began to make some contacts with some members of the General Command and so began the problem inside the General Command. Therefore some of them had been captured and at that time Sabbe began to stand openly against the General Command. For this step also the members of the Supreme Council were not in good favour even to cooperate with the General Command in the external activities, even in this side they did not agree to work together.

Günter Schröder: What was the reason for this disagreement between the two wings of the Supreme Council?

Really, I'm certain that it was not because of ideological differences; no, just the problem at that time was an organizational one. Some said, we can't continue to lead this work just by three or four persons. We have to hold a meeting, say a congress or anything, just to discuss the whole problems, what we have done, what we are going to do, the organizational problems, we are suffering from many organizational problems, we have to establish a new regime of organizational work. Then, some said, no, if we widen the leadership this will push us to more differences, at least, now the differences are between very few people but this widening will complicate matters. But the others, some said, even if this will be a complication, that it will be better to widen the leadership, this at least will be a guarantee for continuation.

These were the differences, it was not ideological. But they began, these differences, to widen day by day, practically it widened and then the military side took the chance.

They made something; they considered it as something to save the situation from the complete end for the whole organization.

For this reason, the difference of that time was concentrated on this organizational problem, not on ideology. After that, of course, after these differences, some of the cadres stand here or there, so began some ideological differences here and there but they were not the main issue.

Günter Schröder: When I discussed this question with Osman he claimed that actually the Iraqis where behind the activities of the General Command against the Supreme Council and especially Sabbe and his followers in the General Command, that they were trying to gain influence inside the ELF at that time.

You see, at that time, the Iraqis and Syrians where the main sources of military aid and the Iraqis tried to interfere into the internal problems more then the Syrians. The Syrians at least were not so keen to interfere into the internal problems of the organization of the ELF. But the Iraqis, this is their habit, they always try to interfere. But at that time, there were not any ideological ties to the Iraqis. Now it is this Jeilani group.

Of course, this group is Baath, in the Eritrean arena, they are considered to be a branch of Baath-Party. At that time, the General Command's time, this was not the case. The Iraqis, they thought that these leaders who have experience, we can not practice any pressure against them, at least directly. But the young people who lack experience, through them we can manage. So they began to support this side of the General Command openly. They began to introduce not only military aid, also financial aid. So they supported this side of the General Command but not on ideological grounds. At that time there was no Baath in ELF.

Günter Schröder: So it was for pragmatic political considerations?


Günter Schröder: Actually Osman said that the Iraqis gave their support in order to have influence inside the ELF but also because they had ambitions in Sudan.

At that time, it was not the Iraq. For example, even the branch of Baath-Party in Sudan at that time was not established. There were some students at the university who had this Baathist tendency but as a political activity, as a party, I don't think that there was a Baath-Party.

They were some students at the University of Khartoum and Khartoum Branch of the University of Cairo, some students in secondary schools, they formed something they called the Arab Socialists of Sudan. They were speaking about the A experiences, like the Nasser experience, the Baath-experience, the Algerian experience. At that time there was no party on which the Iraqis can depend, a political party of the Baath on which they can depend. So at that time, I think, this was practically very far from their possibilities.

Günter Schröder: When I discussed that with Osman he specifically mentioned a meeting between some members of the General Command, some Iraqi envoys and Faruk Hammadallah, the Minister of Interior of Numeiri, taking place in the Iraqi embassy in Khartoum in September 1969. Do you know what meeting that was?

Well, I do not want to speak about a thing where I'm not very, well, confident of my information about it. I may have some, but I'm not sure of this incident.


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