Friday, December 09, 2005

Ex-Ethiopian Official Gets Death Sentence for 'Red Terror' Killings

CNN.com -- A leading member of Ethiopia's former military junta has been sentenced to death for his role in killing more than 900 people during Ethiopia's "Red Terror" of the late 1970s, state-owned radio reported Friday.

Former governor Maj. Melaku Tefera was convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity Thursday by the Federal High Court and sentenced the same day, Radio Ethiopia said.

Under Ethiopian law, Tefera's sentence cannot be acted on until President Girma Woldegirogis approves it.

The court found Tefera had a role in the killings of 971 people and the injury of another 83 when he was governor of Gondar Province in northwestern Ethiopia.

The "Red Terror" -- during which hundreds of students, intellectuals and politicians were perceived to oppose the then-military dictatorship -- took place between 1977 and 1978.

Prime Minister Meles Zenawi led rebels who seized power in 1991 from the military dictatorship. The junta's leader, Mengistu Haile Mariam, fled into exile in Zimbabwe, where he remains.

Tefera's conviction and sentencing is part of an 11-year court case brought against 37 top officials of that dictatorship.

They face upward of 209 charges that they were responsible for the infamous "Red Terror" killings.

Public interest in the cases has waned over the years because the cases have dragged on and the Ethiopian court system does not have a regular schedule of hearings and other matters making it difficult to follow proceedings.

Ethiopia's notoriously inefficient courts have convicted 1,017 people since 1994 for participating in the "Red Terror." But 6,426 await trial and more than 3,000 of those, including Mariam, live in exile.

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