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Tuesday, 16 July, 2002, 11:39 GMT 12:39 UK
EU wants Ethiopian 'atrocity' inquiry
Ethiopian protestors
Various ethnic groups have staged violent protests

The European Union (EU) has demanded a public inquiry into disturbances in Southern Ethiopia earlier this year, which left at least 128 dead.

EU Ambassadors held a meeting with officials from the Ethiopian ministry of foreign affairs earlier this month, during which they requested that a "transparent, public and open" inquiry be launched into what an EU diplomat described as an atrocity.


We would like those responsible for the atrocities in Tepi and Awassa to be prosecuted

EU diplomat

The people died during an outbreak of violence in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and People's Regional State (SNNPRS) in March.

This occurred during a dispute over the political rights of the minority Sheko and Majenger ethnic groups in the town of Tepi, capital of the Yeki District. Tepi is about 700 km south-west of Addis Ababa.

The opposition Sheko-Majenger People's Democratic Unity Organisation (SMPDUO) disputed the results of local elections held last December, in which a government-affiliated party was given control over the Yeki District.

The European Union is the biggest international donor to Ethiopia.

In 2001, Brussels promised $480m to Ethiopia over the next five years for education, infrastructure, food security and good governance.

The EU has also contributed funds for the establishment of a Human Rights Commission and Ombudsman.

Machetes, spears and rifles

The rejection by the National Election Board of the complaint that the elections were not free and fair led to tension in the area between the local administration and SMPDUO.

Violence erupted on 11 March when about 60 Sheko and Majenger people armed with machetes, spears and rifles clashed with police and local authorities in Tepi.

Ethiopia's ethnic mix
More than 70 languages are spoken in Ethiopia as mother tongues
The most widely spoken languages are Amharic, Tigrinya, Oromigna, Guaragigna, Somali and Arabic
The main ethnic groups are the Oromo 40%, Amhara and Tigre 32%, Sidamo 9%, Somali 6%, Afar 4%, Gurage 2%, other groups 7%

The number of ethnically-based movements and political parties has increased dramatically since the overthrow of President Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1991

Eighteen local people, four policemen and one administration official were killed.

Regional police commissioner Yasin Muhammed said that the SMPDUO had incited armed people from its own zone to take control of Tepi by force, according to the Walta Information Centre news agency.

It is the alleged "revenge attacks" carried out by the local police and officials the days that followed, which have prompted the EU to demand an independent inquiry.

Death toll disputed

At least 100 people were killed and their villages razed to ground on the orders of the local authorities in Yeki, according to a damning report by European Union representatives who visited the area in June.

EU sources say that the head of the local police spoke of 128 fatalities. The opposition claim that between 500 and 1,000 died.

The report also says local people spoke of a mass grave in which hundreds of people were buried.

The European Union delegation did not see the grave.

Ethiopian soldier
The army has been used to suppress protests

Between 400 and 1,000 people were arrested after the violence.

Most have since been released but 269 people were still in detention at the time of the delegation's visit.

The violence was not widely reported at the time because of Tepi's remote location and the lack of any international or media presence in the area.

"The EU now wants a public, transparent and open investigation into this," according to an EU diplomat, who wants to remain anonymous.

The EU demanded a similar inquiry into public disturbances which took place in May in the southern Ethiopian town of Awassa, where police clashed with protestors, leaving at least 15 dead.

"We are extremely concerned about the recent uprisings in Ethiopia and the failure by the government to prevent or control them. We would like those responsible for the atrocities in Tepi and Awassa to be prosecuted," the EU diplomat added.

Follow-up

The EU's actions have been welcomed by Dr Beyane Pedros, a member of parliament from the Southern Ethiopian People's Democratic Coalition (SEPDC).

"It's great that the international community is taking an interest in human rights issues in Ethiopia", he said.

Prime Minister Meles Zenawi
President Zenawi faces opposition from many ethnic groups

"[But] we don't want this to be a face saving mechanism or a public relations gimmick on the part of the EU."

Mesfin Endrias, the acting head of press and information at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, says the government is looking into the EU's request for an inquiry.

The ruling EPRDF government last year announced that it had started a mass programme to address human rights, democratisation and good governance.

See also:

05 Jul 02 | Africa
29 Jun 02 | Africa
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29 Jun 02 | Country profiles
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