From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Tue Jan 20 2009 - 15:18:52 EST
Ethiopian Government Minister Reacts to U.S. Senators' Criticism
By James Butty
20 January 2009
A senior Ethiopian official says his government has a responsibility to
maintain law and order and would not be swayed by outside criticism. The
official, Bereket Simon, an advisor to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, was
responding to a letter from four influential U.S. senators to the Ethiopian
In their letter, the four senators, including Russell Feingold, chairman of
the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Africa, warned that
U.S.-Ethiopian relations could become more difficult because of the
Ethiopian government's actions against its opposition.
The senators said they were concerned about the re-arrest of opposition
leader Birtukan Midekssa and the passage of a law restricting civil society
Bereket Simon, advisor to the Ethiopian prime minister told VOA the U.S.
senators' criticism and accusations are unwarranted.
"If anyone is breaking the law, it's their problem and not our problem.
Ethiopian government believes government has a mandate and an obligation to
ensure the rule of law in Ethiopia. So it's an unwarranted accusation and
criticism," he said.
The senators said in their letter that they were concerned about the
re-arrest of opposition leader Birtukan Midekssa. Simon said the opposition
leader broke the rules of her conditional pardon.
"First these opposition leaders had been tried and sentenced, and they asked
for conditional pardon. Government granted them a conditional pardon which
literally means if this person once again transgresses the law of the land,
it would be a breach of the pardon, and that's what she did. We don't accept
double standard here. We believe citizens who don't have the backing of
(U.S.) senators are equal to those who don't have the backing of senators
wherever. She has made mistakes and she has to account for it. Why should we
be criticized by the senators?" Simon said.
The letter, dated January 16th, was signed by Senator Russell Feingold,
chair of the Senate's subcommittee on African Affairs. Other signatories are
Senator Patrick Leahy, Richard Durbin, and Johnny Isakson.
The senators criticized Ethiopia's recent law restricting civil society
groups. Simon said foreigners do not have the same political rights as
Ethiopian citizens to participate in Ethiopian affairs.
"The law differentiates between citizens and foreign-based NGO. Citizens
have every right to participate in Ethiopian politics. In fact it is
mandated by Ethiopian Constitution. So government cannot put a limit. On the
other hand, those foreign-based NGOs who are here because of the privilege
that is given to them by the government do not have the political rights to
participate in Ethiopian affairs," Simon said.
He said Ethiopia is not worried about the U.S. Senators' criticism of the
Meles Zenawi government, especially at a time when a new U.S. administration
led by Barack Obama is about to take over the leadership of the U.S.
"No matter what the times might be, these Congressmen are telling us not to
enact laws that are useful to Ethiopia. They are going to put pressure on us
because we enacted our own laws. This Ethiopia; it's a sovereign state. I
don't think any Congressman can tell us what to do," Simon said.
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