"If ours were not a peace-loving organization," the 10-year-old said with icy hostility, "we would not allow you to be here."
The American visitor to a model school run by the Eritrean People's Liberation Front was caught in a crossfire of remarks and questions posed by young students whose ideological bent bore the marks of careful coaching by the teachers.
"Why did the United States give Ethiopia heavy weapons and warplanes and bombs and bullets to kill the Eritrean people?"
"Who killed Malcolm X?"
"When will the United State elect a black President?"
Like young recruit, illerate peasants and seemingly everyone else in the EPLF held areas, the 220 boys and 170 girls at the model school absorb large does of political education. They are lucky to go to schools at all, since outside the Ethiopian-held towns education has largely stopped in Eritrea.
"We are surprised at your visit, since the Americans are our enemies," a third-grader said.
Neither he nor his University of Wisconsin-trained teacher was aware that President Carter recently announced a cutback in American military sales to Ethiopia because of alleged human rights violations.
The students sitting at desks and dressed in Western clothing donated from abroad, and their teachers, who proudly bring their submachine guns into classes, tended to doubt Carter's good intentions. They had heard such promises before during the 16-year-old war, and the Americans had kept on supplying and training the Ethiopian army.
What, they were asked, if, as is rumored, the Soviet Union and its allies were to begin arming Ethiopia?
"We find that hard to believe, since the Soviet Union is considered a friendly country," a young girl replied. "But if Russia helps the Ethiopians, then Russia will be our enemy."
The students wanted to know what the visitor thought inspired the guerillas of the Eritrean Liberation Front, the rival and larger organization.
The students wanted to know what the visitor though inspired the guerrillas of the larger organization.
They seemed pleased when told that many ELF militants were reading. Chairman Mao's "Little Red Bood," for they said they look to the Chinese both as model for development in a backward society and as an example of a revolution that, like theirs had to fight for many years before achieving victory.
Theoretically, neither major Eritrean separatist movement is Marxist, and each presents itself as a national democratic front. But Marx, Engels, Mao and Lenin were the only names the students mentioned when asked for leaders who inspired them. At the end of a patriotic song, sung in the classroom to extol the revolution, the students all raised clenched fists, the classical by European Communist salute.
Still, the cadres insisted that "all kinds of books from all over the world" not just Marxist texts much in favor partly because they were banned until the late Emperor Haile Selassie was overthrown in 1974 - are available in their librabries.
The morning's last event involved three dozen three to six-year-olds who marched with military precision, danced like angels and denounced in song Osman Saleh Sabe, a former EPLF leader now fallen from grace and considered a hopeless traitor.
The pervasive rivalry between the two main guerilla groups at times goes beyond deriding each others's claims about relatived ability at fighting or at organizing hospitals, schoolrooms, underground garages or workshops to make explosives and repair weapons or radio equipment.
Whenever we need spare parts, the head of the ElF garage boasted. "We just send our urban guerillas into Asmara," the Eritrean Capital held in theory by a large Ethiopian garrison, "and they steal what we need. It's their town during the day and ours at night."
But the danger of cheek-to-jowl implantation of rival military units - inherited from their bloody civil war in the early 1970s - was illustrated in January during the capture of Kerora, a town on the Sudanese border near the Red Sea.
The EPLF finally assaulted the town and took it, to the dismay of the ELF, whose troops commanded the surrounding hills. Once the shooting stopped - with most of the Ethiopian garrison having sought refuge in Sudan - the EPLF enter the town.
Asmara's dwindling foreign colony - mostly Italians who stayed on long after the Italian flag ceased to float there during World War II has the guerillas to thank for what has become known as "Camel Airlines."
Consider the recent case of an Italian contractor who has lived 40 years in Eritrea and his Swiss friend who was a nine-year veteran.
The contractor took a philosophical view of nationalization of his company - worth, he figured, half a million dollars. He also paid without whimper $25,000 tax bill. But he balked when confronted with a $25,000 price tag for an exist visa.
Thanks to first-class EPLF intelligence work, the two men were able to work out their escape. They went to Asmara's outskirts late one afternoon and that night walked through the Ethiopian lines, then through No-Man's-Land, where they were picked up by guerillas with a donkey.
After two days on foot, they and their two suitcases were driven to EPLF headquarters, where they had to wait two weeks for approval to enter Sudan without visas.
Finally, they were driven off in a luxurious Land Rover which, they noted with good humor, had belonged to one of their best Italian friends before it was "liberated" one night in Asmara.
Quite literally, the EPLF is death on sex between its male and female revolutionaries - or rather, it was full a recent congress.
After years of enforcing total abstinence, a committee was finally set up to study individual cases in which marriage was to be condoned.
The prohibition on sex is not just a question of Puritan morals. "Many of us are married and have been since before we joined the revolution, but we are separated from our mates," one said, "and it would not be fair in any case for married couples to sleep together when the rest of us couldn't."
Another objection was the added bother that children born of such relationships would cause for a revolution that cannot afford enough antimalaria medicine or penicillin, let alone birth-control pills.
Among the wounded soldiers at the underground hospital, which had the only beds I saw in the rebel-held areas outside of a visitor's compound, was Ghanesh, at 19 a 20-month infantry veteran.
She was wounded in the leg late last year in the EPLF's successful defense against an Ethiopian paratroop drop in which the secessionists claim that some 750 Ethiopian troops were killed. The ELF has few, if any, women in frontline combat roles.
"Sure," she said, leaning on her crutches made in an underground workshop. "I was shy at the beginning since we were only three girls in our squad of 18. The men were shy, too, but now there's no problem and I want to go back to my unit as soon as possible."
The hospital director, Dr. Makonnen Haile, 29, showed off his Italina-made mobile operating room housed in a specially desinged tent, the intensive care tent next door, the gasoline-run generator and the pharmacy.
With a staff of 14 doctors in six such mobile clinics on the EPLF side - the EPLF has even more - he is forming laboratory technicians, nurses and pharmacy personnel.
"The only wounded we send to Sudan anymore," he said, "are head-injuries cases." But he complained about the high incidence of malaria, vitamin deficiency and digestive tract disorders.
"Some medicine comes through, but not enough" he said, "and often what we get are giveaway samples whose useful life has alredy expired.
The 800 men, women and children belonging to 225 families in the refugee camp live in tents and caves scooped out of the earth.During the day they attend literary and political-education classes.
The women, many with nursing babies, listen intently to the Westernized Eritrean schoolteacher who writes on a blackboard set up in the deep underbrush.
Many of the highland Christian girls writing in their notebooks held on their knees bear a tattooed cross on their foreheads; the Moslem lowlanders, almost to a woman, have bright jewelry hanging from holes in the sides of the nose.
Three times in the past two years the guerrillas have had to move the camp because of Ethiopian air raids.
The refugees are told to stay out of the open during the day and carefully brush away car tracks in the sand to discourage detection.
At 38, Ehdego is an old man for the revolution: He's been in the ELF since 1963, two years after Ertitrea's fight for independence began.
A lean, handsome man who did not see his wife or his son - now 16 - from 1955 to 1975, he wants to go back to his small coffee farm in the highlands after the war. He says does not care much about Marxism, but simple likes "Killing Ethiopains."
He had been wounded many time and says he considers himself lucky to be alive. When he first joined, he was sure the war would be won in three years; of the 700 or so fighting men he knew in those days. Fewer 50 are still alive or period was from 1967 to 1996, when he realla. "We almost starved to death."
If necessary, he says, he will fight for another 15 years. He said that he expects that his son will soon have to take up arms, too.