Twenty years on – imprisoned without trial, but never forgotten: Haile Woldetinsae

In the wake of the tragic failure of Eritrea’s 1998-2000 border war with Ethiopia, senior members of the Eritrean government began a campaign to bring about the democracy that the 30 year war of liberation had been fought for.

They formed the G-15: men and women who challenged President Isaias to give the Eritrean people the freedoms they had been promised. In dawn raids on 18 and 19 September 2001 the president’s notorious security forces rounded them up and jailed them. None have ever been taken before a court or convicted of any crime. They have rotted in prison ever since.

At the same time independent newspapers were closed and journalists arrested. The nightmare of repression which has hung over Eritrea ever since had begun.

Now, on the 20th anniversary of these terrible events, we recall those who have been in Eritrea’s jails ever since. Their families have been deprived of them; their friends have lost them. But they have never been forgotten. Nor has the flame of hope that they ignited – of a proud, free and democratic country.

We have profiles of these brave men and women – and will share them daily.

Haile Woldetinsae (aka Duru’e)

Haile Woldetinsae was active in Eritrean politics from a young age along with schoolmates: Musse Tesfamichael, Seyoum Oghbamichael (aka Harestay), Woldeyesus Amar and Isaias Afwerki (the current unelected President).  After Secondary School. Haile enrolled at the University of Addis Ababa to study Engineering.

In December 1966, Haile left Addis Ababa and joined the ELF along with Musse Tesfamichael (Musse and other “Menaka’e” supporters (the Bat) who were later executed by Isaias for demanding reforms from the EPLF leadership. The ELF leadership looked with suspicion on the new university recruits, which resulted in conflicts between them. In May-June of 1967, Haile and some of his comrades decided to leave the struggle and returned to Addis Ababa to continue their studies. In 1972, Haile graduated from Addis Ababa University. By this time, he had secretly re-established contact with his former schoolmates who had started a new front – the EPLF (they had split from the ELF in early 1970) and Haile joined the EPLF.

From 1972 until 1973, Haile served as a member of the “fighters’ group” that dealt with clandestine and political activities (cells) in Eritrean cities and towns largely around Asmara, Semenawi Bahri, Quazen and Beleza.  In mid-1973, Haile and his comrades were ambushed by Ethiopian soldiers and imprisoned until early 1975, when he was freed, along with thousands of other political prisoners, by the ELF.

In 1977, during the First congress of the EPLF, Haile was elected member of the Central Committee and Politburo of the EPLF and became Head of the Department of Political Awareness. In 1987 Haile was again elected to the Central Committee and Executive Committee and became Head of the Department of National Guidance. It was a role he held until independence in 1991.

After independence, Haile held various ministerial roles, including Foreign Minister and Finance Minister.   In 1998 the Ethio-Eritrean border war erupted and Haile played a major role in the negotiations to end hostilities. He was part of the delegation representing Eritrea in the Algiers Peace Agreement which officially ended the war in August 2001.  Haile was one of the main leaders of the G-15 that demanded accountability from the President when the border war ended.

On 18 of September, 2001, Haile, along with 11 of his G-15 comrades were detained by the Eritrean government and taken to the infamous Ira-Iro prison and they have not been seen or heard ever since.

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