In 2012, and perhaps in response to an increasing number of defections, dwindling numbers of conscripts and on-going incidents with neighbouring countries, the Government reportedly armed civilians. This new “People’s Army” is said to undertake various duties, from guarding public sites to contributing to development projects.
The “People’s Army” (Hizbawi Serawit) is composed of citizens released from the national service and conscripts assigned to civil assignments as part of their open-ended national service. Eritreans between the ages of 18 and about 70 who are not currently engaged in national service must complete weapons training and accept the weapons and uniforms issued to them by the government. Members of the People’s Army must also carry out unpaid tasks as patrols, guards or workers on national development projects.
Recruitment for the People’s Army has so far taken place primarily in Asmara and Keren. It is not clear exactly how recruits are selected but conscription takes place through the hanging of posters on house walls and street lamps. Those who ignore the People’s Army conscription notices are at risk of losing their food coupons and identity documents or face imprisonment. Many people were nevertheless still ignoring them in late 2014 and early 2015. Reportedly, round-ups and detentions of such evaders occurred.
By 15 January 2015 local administrations in Eritrea issued final notices warning the defiant people’s army members who have declined repeated government calls to report to the military training camps. In a threatening notice posted on their offices, the local administrations noted the disobedience by the members of the people’s army and that the administrations wouldn’t be responsible for any consequences if all the members did not report by the 15th of January.
The government of Eritrea was reported to have been postponing the formal military training for the people’s army, which is composed of men between the ages of 40 and 60, due to rejections from the members of the army for repeated calls from the government.
A majority of the members of the people’s army reject the calls saying the calls were insensitive toward their lives which lack any viable intentions. Some members, who had already reported to a military training camp in the western region of Gash Barka called Mai Lam, had begun their training. It is to be remembered that the government had been threatening to revoke family ration coupons to those who reject the government’s repeated calls and that the government would launch a rounding-up campaign to take them by force.
People’s Army’s units are organised by profession (e.g. teachers’ militia, artists’ militia, etc.) or by geographic area or neighborhood. They are assigned tasks that range from guarding public sites, looking for evaders of the national service to undertaking development projects. Units meet regularly, i.e. one day per week or one week per month.
The members of the People’s Army are supposed to keep their current jobs but they have to undertake military training prior to starting their function and are given a Kalashnikov with ammunition. It seems that short military practices or training are held regularly, in some cases every two weeks.
The United Nations Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea reported that in 2013 the People’s Army was headed by Brigadier General Teklai “Manjus”. Interviews by the Commission, however, indicate that Brigadier General Teklai “Manjus” was allegedly relieved of his duties in 2014 and that the People’s Army had since come under the command of the EDF Chief of Staff.
The “people’s army” which was set up by Isaias Afwerki as an alternative to EDF is incapable of being his line of defense: they are the parents and grandparents of the youth they are ordered to “round up” – now considered a mortal threat – and they would not be capable of it: with little or no military training, they are not capable of doing anything more than protecting passive assets (banks, government buildings) and they are not part of any contingency plan to control crowds.
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