Ethiopia Upset by U.S. Bill; Says Unfairly Categorized with N. Korea, Iran
Byline: Brian Blackwell, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Ethiopian officials are disturbed by legislation pending in Congress that would restrict military assistance and travel to the United States by certain Ethiopian officials unless President Bush certifies that the Addis Ababa government is acting to address specific human rights concerns.
The Ethiopians argue that it is unfair to lump them in with countries like North Korea and Iran at a time when their troops are acting as allies in the war on terrorism, defending an interim government in neighboring Somalia against Islamist extremists.
"This would be the fatal blow to cooperating security arrangements between the United States and Ethiopia," said Samuel Assefa, Ethiopian ambassador to the United States. "Ethiopia is a vital ally to the U.S. in this region in the fight against terrorism. The bill could cut off economic and bilateral aid at a most inopportune time."
The legislation - known as H.R. 2003 - was proposed by Rep. Donald M. Payne, New Jersey Democrat, and is backed by members of the Ethiopian community in Washington, most of whom support the main opposition party in Addis Ababa and remain angry over the outcome of a May 2005 parliamentary election.
Shortly after the election - in which the opposition party won an unprecedented number of seats but not enough to defeat Prime Minister Meles Zenawi - violent protests erupted, leading to a government crackdown.
The government admitted its security forces arrested about 30,000 protesters and killed 193 civilian protesters, but denied excessive force was used. Many more were arrested and have been held in many cases until recently.
Mr. Assefa argued in an interview at The Washington Times that his government was addressing the problem. Last weekend, the government reported that 32 members and supporters of the opposition coalition were released.
Another 38 prisoners had been freed three weeks earlier, and Mr. …