After the UK froze a planned $36.1 million aid package, Ethiopia has freed 336 prisoners seized in a crackdown following clashes with police over elections which left 36 dead. But more remain behind bars. The main opposition group, the Coalition for Unity and Democracy, has said up to 120 of its staff have been jailed. Ethiopia’s main human rights group has said three of its members were arrested.
Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s ruling party claimed victory in the elections, based on provisional results. But parties have lodged complaints in 299 of the country’s 527 constituencies. The unrest is the most serious dissent the Meles government has faced since it came to power in a 1991 revolution.
International observers acknowledged there were abuses by both the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front and the opposition parties during the campaign, but called it the most free and competitive in the country’s history. (AP, June 17)
The electoral violence comes as multiple ethnic wars continue across much of Ethiopia. Eritrea Daily reported June 18 claims by guerillas of the Ogaden National Liberation Front to have seized a government army base. The oil-rich Ogaden Basin was the goad of a brief war between Ethiopia and Somalia in the Ogaden Crisis of 1977, when Somalia invaded in support of Ogaden separatists but was driven back after three months of fighting. The Ogaden guerillas are now apparently trying tie down Ethiopian forces to prevent Ethiopia from sending peacekeepers to Somalia to help oversee a government transition there, fearing the new regime in Mogadishu would be too closeley tied to Addis Ababa. (See our last post on Somalia.) However, even if the guerillas have lost Somalia as a sponsor, Eritrea (at odds with Ethiopia, from which it gained independence in 1991, over border disputes) is likely picking up the slack.