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Saturday, 21 April, 2001, 17:12 GMT 18:12 UK
Anger over Ethiopian detainees
Relatives of detained students
Hundreds of relatives are waiting anxiously for news
By Nita Bhalla in Addis Ababa

The Ethiopian Human Rights Council (Ehrco) has denied that thousands of students being held in detention camps after last week's riots in Addis Ababa had any role in the violence.

"Ehrco has found no reason to believe that Addis Ababa University students were responsible for the rioting," said Ehrco chairman Professor Andergatchew Tesfaye.

The detainees include thousands of university students who were peacefully demonstrating for their academic rights before the rioting broke out.

What are they doing to our sons? They are starving

detainee's mother
Most have been taken to a police camp in the village of Sendafa, 38 km northeast of Addis Ababa after being rounded up by Ethiopian Special Forces.

Local people in Sendafa say that up to 30 trucks filled with students arrived in the darkness in the early hours of Thursday morning and are under heavy guard.

This, however, has not stopped hundreds of families of the young men from streaming in to Sendafa from all over the country, in an attempt to find their missing relatives.

Emotional scenes

There were highly emotional scenes at the camp on Friday, with hundreds of families gathered outside the gates, pleading with the guards to allow them to see the students.

Detained students
Authorities say the detainees are not being mistreated
Abrehet Gebre Tsadik travelled from the town of Debre Zeit, 44 km from Addis Abba, in search for her son, Samuel Aregawi.

He was taken from St. Mary's Church in Addis Ababa where and hundreds of others were seeking refuge.

"My son did nothing wrong. He was peacefully sitting in the compound of the church when the security forces entered and ordered all the girls to leave. They took him and all the other boys and brought them here," she said.

Many of the relatives tried to peer over the walls of the massive compound, which is shrouded by trees.

In a building near the back of the compound, students could be seen trying to look out, but guards prevented them from shouting or opening windows.

Some made signals to their parents suggesting that they were hungry, by putting their hands to their mouths. Mothers screamed on seeing this.

"What are they doing to our sons? They are starving. We have brought them food but we are not allowed to give them anything," one mother cried.

'No mistreatment'

Authorities at the camp denied that the students were being mistreated, and said that they were being given proper food and medical care.

It is hard for us to distinguish who was where because of all the chaos, so we had to arrest all of those suspected

Police spokesman
However, as I waited outside Sendafa to meet officials, police appeared to force about 1,000 students to run barefoot around a stony pitch during a heavy downpour.

On the third day of their detention, most seemed in physically good condition, although a few limped and looked weak.

According to officials, the detainees have been separated into their relevant groupings and are being interrogated.

"It is hard for us to distinguish who was where because of all the chaos, so we had to arrest all of those suspected," said one official.

"We hope to release those who are innocent in the coming three to four days, but it may take longer depending on our investigations," he added.

Police running down the road towards
The riots were Addis Ababa's worst for 10 years

Two of the main opposition political parties, the Ethiopian Democratic Party and the All Amhara People's Organisation also say that a number of their senior members have been arrested.

Thirty-nine people died and over were 250 wounded last week, when police opened fire on rioters after student protests degenerated into the worst violence in Addis Ababa since the overthrow of the Marxist regime in 1991.

Shops were looted, government buildings attacked and vehicles set alight, causing damage estimated at millions of dollars.

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See also:

18 Apr 01 | Africa
More clashes in Addis Ababa
21 Mar 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Ethiopia
17 Apr 01 | Africa
'Brutal' attack by Addis police
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