Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Ethiopia's Marxist Leader Is Forced out New Government's Cease-Fire Offer Could Make Room for Agreement at Imminent Peace Talks

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Ethiopia's Marxist Leader Is Forced out New Government's Cease-Fire Offer Could Make Room for Agreement at Imminent Peace Talks

Article excerpt

THE sudden departure May 21 from Ethiopia of longtime dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam brightens the prospects for peace in a country torn by 30 years of civil war.

"I think the chances are now better" that a settlement can be reached to end years of fighting, says Mogus Tekle Mikael, former spokesman for the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Peace talks among Eritrean and Tigrean rebels and the government are scheduled to begin May 27 in London.

Diplomats, rebel leaders, Ethiopian officials, and others, all saw Mr. Mengistu's possible insistence on clinging to power as the chief stumbling block to forming a "transitional" government that all sides have publicly said they want to achieve.

After his departure was announced, the Ethiopian government declared its willingness to initiate an immediate cease-fire, probably dependent on reciprocity by rebels, who are only 60 miles from this capital city.

Mengistu's departure considerably reduces the chances of fighting in the capital, Mr. Mogus said on May 21. "There will not be another Mogadishu," he said, referring to the massive killing and destruction that occurred in the Somalian capital in January, when dictator Mohammed Siad Barre refused to leave his post after losing all public support.

Public reaction to Mengistu's departure was quick and positive. "A sigh of relief" among ordinary people is the way one Ethiopian described it in a telephone interview.

Despite the rebels' imminent approach, a surface calm reigns in Addis Ababa. As recently as May 19, this reporter saw crowded churches and packed soccer matches. An an elderly man sat alone reading his prayer book, oblivious to the afternoon crowds.

But beneath this surface calm, Ethiopians are anxious - and hopeful - that the peace talks will somehow halt the long, and recently escalating civil war.

"People want peace," an Ethiopian official says. "They're scared."

The official adds: "I don't think the government feels threatened. They think they can turn it around."

A Western diplomat in Addis Ababa suggested just last week that Mengistu might still have believed he could rally enough support to win in the name of protecting national unity.

If Mengistu had insisted on being part of any "transitional" government, the talks would have been doomed, Ethiopian and Western analysts here say.

But the new government is not likely to show any less resistance than Mengistu to the idea of secession by Eritrean rebels in the north, a point that could lead to the failure of the peace talks.

Yet all sides have something to gain from successful talks.

The rebels, Western analysts say, want to avoid the high casualties and damage to Ethiopia's economy that a battle over Addis Ababa would entail. They would prefer to get a new government through talks.

The government faces increasing economic pressures, especially as rebels now control some major food-producing areas. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.