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Sunday, December 18, 2005

Britain Calls for National Reconciliation in Ethiopia

Sudan Tribune -- Britain has called for national reconciliation to restore Ethiopia’s international reputation damaged this year by the killing of more than 80 people in politically motivated demonstrations.

Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has been feted by the West as one of a "new generation" of African leaders. But his democratic credentials have come into question over the deaths, the arrest of thousands of protesters, and disputed May elections.

"I told the prime minister, as I have told all parties, of the deep concern in the UK and in Europe about the unrest in June and November and its aftermath," British African Affairs Minister David Triesman said after meeting Meles on Saturday.

"Ethiopia’s international reputation has not been helped by recent events. I believe it is possible to find a way forward to redress this and give Ethiopians hope for a better future."

Britain froze a planned 20 million pound ($35.36 million) increase in aid to Ethiopia after the first wave of police shootings during a June crackdown on protests over alleged fraud in elections that returned Meles to power.

Meles said rioters and looters were to blame, with the opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) deliberately stirring up trouble in a bid to topple the government.

UK AID STILL COMING

During a briefing with reporters late on Saturday, Triesman explained that British aid was, however, still flowing.

"There has been no cutting of aid to Ethiopia. The decision to suspend future packages of aid was because we are reviewing development aid programmes to Ethiopia," he said.

"We remain completely committed to provide aid to some of the poorest people in Ethiopia."

British sources said annual development assistance to Ethiopia was currently around 50 million pounds ($88.40 million), and despite the June freeze there was a plan to hike it to 90 million in 2006.

Triesman met opposition CUD legislators as well as relatives of detained party leaders during his one-day visit.

The government has charged about 131 people — including top CUD members, media representatives and some NGO workers — with treason and insurrection. They are due in court on Wednesday.

"There is a need for a spirit of national reconciliation, magnanimity and political consensus in dealing with each other," Triesman added. "All parties should avoid violence."

Referring to Ethiopia’s border tensions with neighbour Eritrea, the British official said Asmara’s decision to expel some Western peacekeepers from a U.N. monitoring mission was wrong.

"The decision to remove some detachment of UNMEE and preventing helicopter flights by UNMEE personnel raises tension and I think it is a mistake," he said.

Eritrea first banned U.N. helicopter flights over its territory then ordered out 180 American, Canadian and European staff from the border monitoring mission. The move was attributed to resentment over the international body’s failure to force Ethiopia to comply with a border demarcation.

"I had hoped to visit Eritrea and hold talks about what we believe is necessary for peace and security in the region. But I got a red light. It seems (President) Isaias (Afwerki) is not willing to see all representatives of the international community," he said.

A 1998-2000 border war killed 70,000 people.

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