[dehai-news] (BBC) Canadian in Ethiopia terror case

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From: Biniam Tekle (biniamt@dehai.org)
Date: Thu Mar 19 2009 - 08:27:12 EST

Page last updated at 10:04 GMT, Thursday, 19 March 2009

Canadian in Ethiopia terror case

The ONLF says it is fighting for the local Somali-speaking population
A Canadian citizen, allegedly held in secret detention for two years, has
appeared in an Ethiopian court accused of terrorism charges.

Ethiopian-born Bashir Makhtal denies being a leader of the separatist Ogaden
National Liberation Front (ONLF).

Mr Bashir, who was among dozens of people arrested when Ethiopia invaded
Somalia in 2006, faces the death penalty if convicted.

The former Toronto resident's case was adjourned to 20 April.

Mr Bashir's appearance on Thursday at the High Court in Addis Ababa was not
his first - he pleaded not guilty at a previous hearing to all four charges:

• that he was a member of the ONLF central committee between 1999 and 2006

• that he recruited and trained ONLF members at a military camp in Eritrea

• that he led a contingent of the ONLF in the field against the Ethiopian
army in Ethiopia's Somali region

• that he collaborated with Somalia's Union of Islamic Courts in Eritrea in
an effort to overthrow the Ethiopian government

Mr Bashir was transferred from military custody to a prison near Addis Ababa
two months ago, his lawyer said.

He has repeatedly denied involvement in the ONLF and says he is being
persecuted because his grandfather helped found the rebel group decades ago.

The ONLF, founded in 1984, is fighting for the Somali-speaking population in
Ethiopia's oil-rich Ogaden region, saying it has been marginalised by Addis

Prosecutors failed to present witnesses, saying they were all in the Somali
region and could not reach the court because of transport problems.

The judge said that if they could not produce the witnesses in the next
court appearance, the case would be tried without them.

Judge's rights reminder

The judge also reminded prison officials that Mr Bashir was entitled to
access to consular officials, who were present in the court on Thursday.

Mr Bashir's family in Canada say he was held in solitary for nearly two
years with no access to lawyers or embassy officials.

His relatives say he was a businessman, trading in second-hand clothes and
was in Mogadishu on a business trip when the Ethiopians invaded.

Mr Bashir, who has a Canadian passport, was subsequently arrested crossing
the border between Somalia and Kenya. His family say he was trying to get
away from the fighting.

The BBC's Elizabeth Blunt in Addis Ababa says he is one of the last of the
foreign detainees from 2006 still to be held, and the first to face charges
in a normal criminal court.

Other foreign detainees - among them Swedes, Americans and Kenyans - were
questioned and eventually released into the custody of their own

The Canadian government, under pressure from the Somali community there, has
been urging the Ethiopian government to either charge and try him, or let
him go, says our correspondent.

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