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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 December 2006, 14:38 GMT
Profile: Mengistu Haile Mariam
Former President Mengistu Haile Mariam, fled Ethiopia in May, 1991, leaving his country ravaged by economic decline, famine and on the verge of political disintegration.

Mengistu Haile Mariam
Mengistu shows no signs of repentance
Fifteen years later, he has been held responsible for the deaths or disappearances of tens of thousands of Ethiopians during the 1970s - a period known as the Red Terror, when Mengistu ruled the country through his military committee, known as the Dergue.

He was a relatively obscure army officer when he took part in a successful but bloody coup against Ethiopia's Haile Selassie in September 1974.

The emperor had failed to come to grips with a poor harvest, and the situation escalated into a devastating famine.

The young officers formed the Dergue, which Mengistu took control of three years later, after a power struggle. Mengistu showed a ruthless streak, shooting a fellow officer who wanted to make peace with the province of Eritrea, which was seeking independence.

The president's dream was to turn Ethiopia into a Soviet-style workers' state.

Thousands of intellectuals, professionals and other perceived opponents of socialism and the regime were killed during the "Red Terror" years.

Soviet alliance

At the time, the country was embroiled in a war with Somalia, which was armed and backed by the Soviet Union. Mengistu encouraged Moscow to switch sides.

An alliance was formed, which saw the Soviet Union pour more than $10bn of military aid into the country during the 1980s.

For years, Mengistu relied on the Soviet Union for his economic thinking.

He saw himself as a Third World champion of communism. Alongside portraits of Lenin, Engels and Marx, he hung huge portraits of himself leading the masses to victory.

He spent much of his leisure time reading Marxist-Leninist tracts and wore Soviet-cut military jackets and caps.

Sent to the US

Mengistu was born in 1937 in Walayitta, Ethiopia.

He joined the army and graduated from military academy in 1966.

He was sent for advanced training to the United States. There, he became anti-American, sympathising with the American black nationalist movement. It was also in the US that his Stalinist philosophy took shape.

In 1971, he returned to Ethiopia. Six years later, he was in charge of the country.

Initially, he made social and economic changes in the country, replacing the ancient feudal society with a socialist one-party state.

But his ruling Workers' Party became extremely unpopular for harsh social policies as well as the forced wholesale transfer of population.

The drought of 1984-5 brought the country to economic ruin and he was forced to reassess his Marxist rhetoric. An estimated 1m people starved to death during the famine.

In 1990, Moscow cut its military aid and Mengistu began abandoning his Marxist policies.

The Dergue was overthrown in 1991, and Mengistu fled as the combined Eritrean and Tigrayan forces were on the outskirts of Addis Ababa.

He found a safe haven in Zimbabwe, with help from American officials who hoped his departure might stop the fighting.

He has lived a lavish but reclusive life in exile in Zimbabwe ever since. His only trip abroad was in 1999 when he visited South Africa for medical treatment. There was pressure on the government to extradite him - but he returned quickly to Zimbabwe.

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

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