[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Languages
Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 December 2006, 17:48 GMT
Mengistu found guilty of genocide
Mengistu Haile Mariam
Mengistu Haile Mariam has lived in exile for 15 years
Ethiopia's Marxist ex-ruler, Mengistu Haile Mariam, has been found guilty of genocide after a 12-year trial.

The former leader was tried in his absence. He has been in exile in Zimbabwe since being ousted in 1991 and many fear he will never face justice.

In a notorious campaign - known as the Red Terror - thousands of suspected opponents were rounded up and executed and their bodies tossed on the streets.

Mengistu and dozens of his officials could face the death penalty.

All bar one of the other 72 officials also on trial were found guilty of genocide. Thirty-four people were in court, 14 others have died during the lengthy process and 25, including Mengistu, were tried in absentia.

MENGISTU HAILE MARIAM
1937: Born in Walayitta
1974: Emperor Haile Selassie overthrown
1977-78: Thousands killed during Red Terror
1994: Genocide trial in Ethiopia begins
2006: Found guilty of genocide

The BBC's Amber Henshaw said the atmosphere was muted at Ethiopia's Federal High Court in Addis Ababa as the elderly defendants shuffled in and out, dressed smartly in suits.

But she says there were joyful scenes as one of the men who was acquitted embraced his family.

Sentencing is expected on 28 December.

They were accused of killing thousands of people including the last emperor, members of the royal family, 60 ministers and top officials.

The court also found them guilty of imprisonment, illegal homicide and illegal confiscation of property.

"Members of the Dergue (Mengistu's junta) who are present in court today and those who are being tried in absentia have conspired to destroy a political group and kill people with impunity," said the High Court judgement. "They set up a hit squad to decimate, torture and destroy groups opposing the Mengistu regime," it said.

The evidence against Mengistu, who is nearly 70, included signed execution orders, videos of torture sessions and personal testimonies.

Rule

Mengistu's Marxist rule began in 1974, when he and a group of officials known as the Dergue, overthrew Ethiopia's emperor, Haile Selassie. The emperor had failed to come to grips with a poor harvest, and the situation escalated into a devastating famine.

AFRICA HAVE YOUR SAY
We should not allow law makers to become law breakers. Being a former president does not make one sacrifice more for the state than the man in the street
Besenty Gomez, Kitty Village

Mengistu soon emerged as the leader, and in the confusion following the emperor's death the government became embroiled in bitter clashes with students and leftist rivals.

Mengistu responded by brutally suppressing the unrest.

Declaring Ethiopia a Socialist People's Republic, he turned to the Soviet Union, which backed him in fighting an invasion from Somalia.

But a war for independence in Eritrea rumbled on, and rebellion erupted in the province of Tigray.

Moscow re-armed the Ethiopian military, but it gradually crumbled until in 1991 the combined Eritrean and Tigrayan forces were on the outskirts of the capital, Addis Ababa.

Mengistu then fled to Zimbabwe, where his friend, President Robert Mugabe gave him sanctuary.

Mr Mugabe has so far refused requests to extradite Mengistu to Ethiopia.

Mengistu himself refuses to recognise the legal basis of the trial, accusing those who overthrew him of being mercenaries and colonisers.


SEE ALSO
Profile: Mengistu Haile Mariam
12 Dec 06 |  Africa
Red Terror 'hard to forgive'
31 Jul 03 |  Africa
A time to forgive?
25 Jul 03 |  Africa
Mengistu defends 'Red Terror'
28 Dec 99 |  Africa



FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

PRODUCTS & SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific