Wednesday, February 04, 2009
"Zimbabwe's MDC plan to extradite Mengistu Haile Mariam to Ethiopia"
by Martin Fletcher in Harare
February 4, 2009
The former Ethiopian dictator who slaughtered opponents on an industrial scale in the so-called "Red Terror" is to face justice after 17 years being sheltered by Robert Mugabe's regime in Zimbabwe.
With the country's opposition Movement for Democratic Change due to enter a unity government with Zanu-PF next week, The Times has learnt that the extradition of Mengistu Haile Mariam is to be given priority. He faces the death penalty in his home country for his crimes.
Today Nelson Chamisa, the MDC’s chief spokesman, told The Times that Mengistu’s case would be “high on the agenda” of the new administration. “Zimbabwe should not be a safe haven or resting place for serial human rights violators like Mr Mengistu. We can’t shelter purveyors of injustice,” he said.
Last year an Ethiopian court sentenced the "Butcher of Addis" to be executed after convicting him of genocide in absentia, but Mr Mugabe flatly refused to extradite the man who helped to arm Zanu-PF’s guerrillas during Zimbabwe’s 1970s liberation war.
Instead Mengistu continued to live in Zimbabwe as Mr Mugabe’s honoured guest, dividing his time between a heavily guarded villa in a comfortable Harare suburb, a farm near the capital and a retreat on glorious Lake Kariba.
Suddenly, the future of one of Africa’s worst tyrants looks rather less assured. The MDC plans to use its Cabinet ministers, parliamentary majority and popular support to fight President Mugabe’s inevitable resistance. At stake was “the image and integrity of our country. We have to restore our glory and our dignity among the family of nations,” Mr Chamisa said.
Few Zimbabweans would shed tears if Mengistu, 71, was sent home to the gallows. Mr Mugabe has spent millions of dollars providing his fellow dictator with a government villa in a barricaded cul-de-sac in the suburb of Gun Hill, with round-the-clock protection by armed soldiers and any number of other benefits including the payment of substantial telephone bills — $15,000 in one instance.
In return Mengistu has advised the President on security issues and was allegedly the mastermind of Operation Murambatsvina in 2006 when security forces and Zanu-PF thugs razed the homes of 700,000 slum-dwellers regarded as MDC supporters.
Mengistu has plenty of experience in that field. He seized power after a military coup in 1974 that ended Emperor Haile Selassie’s 44-year rule and ushered in one of the bloodiest regimes Africa has known. In 1976 he mounted the "Red Terror" campaign against opponents of his Derg regime by standing in the centre of Addis Ababa, shouting: “Death to the counter-revolutionaries”, and smashing bottles filled with pigs’ blood to demonstrate the fate that awaited them.
Over the next few years more than half a million people are thought to have been killed in what Human Rights Watch called “one of the most systematic uses of mass murder ever witnessed in Africa”. Hit squads carried out summary executions. Militias strung opponents up from lampposts. Relatives had to pay a tax called “the wasted bullet” to retrieve the bodies of the dead. The victims included the former Emperor and numerous members of the Royal Family and Mengistu is said to have executed some of them himself.
He turned Ethiopia into a Marxist state, backed by the Soviet Union, and earned the sobriquet the "Black Stalin". He created giant collective farms that had the same ruinous effect on agricultural production as Mr Mugabe’s land seizures in Zimbabwe and that helped to cause terrible famine.
His Soviet-armed military sought to crush an independence war in Eritrea and an uprising in Tigray province, but when the Soviet Union collapsed Mengistu lost his sponsors. In 1991 he fled to Zimbabwe as the Tigre People’s Liberation Front and the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front surrounded Addis.
Washington asked Mr Mugabe to accept him to end the bloodshed.
In 1995 Mengistu narrowly survived an assassination attempt by two Eritreans as he took an afternoon stroll with his wife near Garvin Close, his Harare home. In court the men showed the scars of their torture by Mengistu’s henchmen, but both were imprisoned.
Otherwise Mengistu has maintained a low profile. Early on he was occasionally spotted in a shopping centre or restaurant, surrounded by guards and armed with a pistol. In 1998 he told a reporter who reached him by telephone that he was a “political refugee” who spent his time reading, writing and watching television.
In 1999, using a Zimbabwean diplomatic passport, he flew to Johannesburg for medical treatment and gave a rare interview to a South African newspaper in which he claimed that his socialist revolution had been necessary to remove Selassie’s “backward, archaic and feudalist system” and that millions of peasants had benefitted. More recently he has vanished from sight.
Mengistu’s armed guards were nowhere to be seen in Garvin Close today and The Times was able to drive past the barrier and right up the cul-de-sac before the soldiers suddenly appeared from behind a wall and ordered the intruder to leave. The half-dozen villas all looked abandoned.
As Mr Mugabe’s popularity has plunged in recent years, Mengistu was rumoured to have made contingency plans to move to North Korea. Now might be the time to dust them off — if he has not done so already.
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