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Eritrean War for Independence

Following World War II, Eritrea was placed under British military administration and beginning in 1949, administered it as a trust territory of the United Nations. In 1950 the UN decided that Eritrea should become a part of a federated Ethiopia, who had long been trying to attain the territory with its vast Red Sea coast. In 1962 Eritrea decided to end the federation and completely unify with Ethiopia. However, this was not a position that all Eritreans agreed on and those who opposed the union began to fight limited guerrilla warfare and the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) was founded. Initially, the ELF was more nationalist and Islamic and received aid from Iraq and Syria, although as more Christians began to join the ELF became increasingly anti-capitalist. Internal divisions within the ELF led to the creation of the rival Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF) in 1972, led by Osman Salah Sabbe, the former head of the Muslim League.

After Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie was overthrown in a military coup in 1974 the EPLF and ELF united against the Ethiopian government. There was a marked increase in fighting and by 1976 the united Eritrean forces had pushed virtually all government forces out of Eritrea. There was yet another division within the Eritrean opposition as Osman broke from the EPLF and formed the Eritrean Liberation Front-Popular Liberation Front (ELF-PLF), a move that reflected personal rivalries and ideological divisions. The Ethiopians however could benefit from the massive amounts of aid and troops given to them by the Soviet Union and Cuba, and with this help the Ehtiopians were able to defeat the Eritreans in 1978. It was not a total victory for the Ethiopian forces and there was a return to more limited guerrilla warfare where neither side was really able to take control. There was continued fighting between the guerrillas and government forces throughout the 1980s, but eventually the guerrillas were able to gain the upper hand, scoring several key victories against Ethiopian forces.

In 1991 the rebels captured the Eritrean capital of Asmara and the ports, which essentially gave them full control of Eritrea. Soon after the UN scheduled a referendum on Eritrean independence which was approved by an overwhelming margin. The main leader of the EPLF, Isaias Afwerki, became the new country's first president. The EPLF (also Afwerki's party) was renamed was renamed the People's Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ) and became the only political organization with any real sort of power. One of the new government's first acts was to promote economic reform, trade, and privatization.



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