Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki with Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao.
Originally uploaded by Pan-African News Wire File Photos
Tue Dec 25, 3:39 PM
NAIROBI (AFP) - Eritrean President Issaias Afeworki on Tuesday mourned the country's famous independence fighter Mohammed Omar Abdalla, who died earlier in the day, aged 79.
Abdalla was one of the prominent fighters who launched Eritrea's struggle for independence from Ethiopia in 1961. The guerrilla warfare campaign resulted in independence in 1993, when Issaias came to power.
"(He) was one of the patriots among the founding fathers of the armed struggle for independence in the wake of the big powers' conspiracy against the right of the Eritrean peoples to self-determination," Issaias said.
Afeworki described Abdalla as "a symbol of the legacy of the Eritrean people's steadfastness and victory," said a statement posted on the information ministry's website, shabait.com.
The 1991 defeat by Eritrean rebel fighters of a far larger Ethiopian army -- who were backed first by the United States and then the Soviet Union -- came at a heavy price.
Asmara has allocated one-third of the its annual national budget in support of families of "fallen heroes and needy nationals."
Apart from the independence heroes, Asmara regards men and women who died during the 1998-2000 border war with Ethiopia is another category of national heroes.
The president has vowed to improve the lives of people in Eritrea, the impoverished small nation on the western banks of the Red Sea, which is home to at least 4.2 million people.