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The second liberation (1988-1993)

In March 1988, in a turn of events, the EPLF managed to capture the city of Afabet, then headquarters of the Ethiopian army in north-eastern Eritrea. This victory put an end to the stalemate and subsequently allowed the EPLF to move to reconquer almost all of the north and west of the country. In May 1988, Ethiopian troops launched a large-scale bombing counter-offensive to re-capture Afabet. This was inconclusive and opened a new front-line from Halhal to the coastal plain north of Massawa.

The military successes of the EPLF yielded new recruits almost tripling the Fronts size between 1988 and 1991. They also attracted diplomatic interest. Talks were initiated between the EPLF and the Jimmy Carters US Administration in 1989, and the Soviet Union halted its military support to Ethiopia to favour a negotiated settlement of the conflict in 1988. In the meantime, the EPLF manoeuvred to weaken Mengistus regime by intensifying its support to Ethiopian rebel movements, including the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), respectively in north and south-central Ethiopia. In February 1989, EPLF artillery support contributed to the victory of the TPLF in the battle of Shire and the capture of the whole Tigray province, effectively blocking land access from Ethiopia to central Eritrea.

In January 1990, the EPLF launched a new offensive that, one month later, led to the liberation of Massawa. By May 1990, the frontline was reorganised between Segeneiti and Dekemhare. In early 1991, the EPLF intensified its attacks along the eastern coast to seize Assab and cut off Ethiopian access to the sea. In May, EPLF forces conducted their final assault and captured the city of Dekemhare on 21 May. The same day, Mengistu, facing the Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), which was supported by the EPLF, fled from Addis Ababa to Zimbabwe. On 24 May, the EPLF entered in Asmara which had been abandoned by retreating Ethiopian troops. Assab was liberated the following day. The armed struggle for independence was over after 30 years of fighting.

On 20 June 1991, Isaias Afwerki announced the creation of the Provisional Government of Eritrea (PGE) which would administer Eritrean affairs until the organization of a self-determination referendum. This decision had been accepted by the United States and the new TPLF-led Ethiopian Government in a conference organised in London in May 1991. The leader of the EPLF became the head of the PGE, and the Central Committee of the Front served as the transitional legislative body. An executive body was subsequently created in May 1992. Named the Advisory Council, it consisted of 28 members representing the heads of the EPLF departments47 and the military. Despite the espoused commitments to gender equality, all of the first members of the Front were men.

From 1 to 5 July 1991, the PGE attended the peace conference held in Addis Ababa as an observer. On this occasion, the Ethiopian Government confirmed its support for a referendum on the independence of Eritrea within two years. In December 1991, Ethiopia notified the United Nations that it recognised the Eritrean peoples right to self-determination, paving the way for a referendum. In April 1992, the PGE set up a Referendum Commission, chaired by Mr. Amare Tekle. It also passed the Eritrean Nationality Proclamation (No. 21/1993), which set the criteria of citizenship as a prerequisite for participation in the referendum. Funded by the United Nations and other donor countries, the Commission organised a computerised registration of voters.

The referendum took place between 23 and 25 April 1993. Monitored by a United Nations observer mission (UNOVER),48 the referendum saw 99.8 per cent of the 1,102,410 voters who resided in Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan and other countries vote for Eritrean independence. On 24 May 1993, Eritrea officially became an independent State. Four days later, it joined the United Nations as its 182nd member. It also established permanent representations to the Organization of African Unity (OA) and to the European Union (EU) and took observer status at the Arab League.



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