Afabet Genocide

Written by: Annual Eritrean Memorial Week (AEMW)

Afabet is a market town and administrative center on the road from Keren to Nakfa,

إبادة مدينة أفعبت 1

and the site of the single most decisive battle of the armed struggle.

The Afabet plain has been inhabited since prehistoric times, but until the 1950s it was little more than a seasonal camp and occasional market, and the Italian administrative post in the area was located at Cub-Cub. 

The battle of Afebet:

On 17 March 1988, the main EPLF offensive was launched on three fronts.

The Eritrean left wing swept down the coast, closing off the mouths of the Felket She'eb and Azahara
canyons to prevent Ethiopian units from escaping to the east, while the center attacked the main front along the Hedai valley, and the right wing destroyed the Ethiopian 21st Division.

By 20 March the EPLF had killed or captured 18,000 Ethiopian soldiers, and the balance of military power in Eritrea had permanently shifted. Basil Davidson, reporting for the British Broadcasting Company from the battlefield on 21 March, called the victory "one of the biggest ever scored by any liberation movement anywhere since Dien Bien Phu."

The EPLF capture of Afabet left the Ethiopian army in disarray.

The following period saw fierce fighting that saw many atrocities against civilians in several towns.

Air forces also carried out a number of attacks on villages and other civilian targets.

These included:

• 31st March - Melebso: 15 killed, 25 wounded.

• 2nd April - Mensae Beit Shehaqu: 5 killed.

• April: repeated attacks on Afabet, casualties not known.

• April - Agordat: at least three civilians killed.

April - Anseba: two civilians killed.

7th & 8th May - Mensura: five civilians killed.

• 3rd & 13th May - Halhal: at least three civilians killed in this and two other attacks.

• 19th May - Afabet: ten civilians killed.

These killings of civilians served no military purpose.

They were intended merely to terrorize and punish the population.

• The fighting and government reprisals displaced about 110,000 civilians, including over 70,000 from the Sheib area.

• About 40,000 fled to Sudan.

• These refugees described how they hid to escape the Ethiopian army and how it was not safe to inhabit a village during daylight hours.

• Instead, people spent the day hiding in the hills, returning home only at dusk.

• They could not wear bright clothing for fear of attracting the planes and had to hang their washing to dry in the shade of trees.

• They could not light a fire to cook, because the smoke would give away their presence. Travel to Sudan was possible only at night.

The capture of Massawa by the EPLF in February 1990 also led to the government unleashing air attacks on other towns and villages in Eritrea.

Some of the attacks included:-

3rd April - Afabet: 16 killed, 24 wounded, and 168 buildings were destroyed by Ethiopian bombing.

4th April - Afabet: 51 killed, 125 seriously wounded.

17th April : Afabet: no fatalities.

21st May - Afabet: two killed.


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