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US admits helping Mengistu escape

US admits helping Mengistu escape | 22 December, 1999

The United States embassy in Zimbabwe has confirmed the US was involved in finding a safe haven for the former Ethiopian dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam.

The embassy said in a statement that then Assistant Secretary of State Hank Cohen had been involved in negotiations which resulted in Mengistu coming to Harare in 1991.

While the US recognises that Mengistu's military regime - the Dergue - was involved in crimes and atrocities, it argues that the leader's departure from Addis Ababa was necessary to end the civil war and bring peace to Ethiopia

Up to 500 000 people were killed during Mengistu's so-called red terror, according to Amnesty International.

Notoriously, soldiers of the Dergue would not release a victim's body for burial until the victim's family had paid back the cost of the bullet used in the killing.

Thousands of members of the Dergue regime are currently in prison awaiting trial in Ethiopia.

Deflecting criticism

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe first mentioned US involvement in Mengistu's escape to try to deflect criticism that Zimbabwe was harbouring a dictator who deserved to be judged for his crimes

Mengistu is accommodated in a luxury mansion in Harare and some Zimbabweans are outraged that their taxes are being spent in this way.

Mr Mugabe said with some pride that the Americans had offered financial assistance, but that this had not been necessary.

The current Ethiopian Government is keen to have Mengistu arrested, and requested his extradition when he visited South Africa recently for medical treatment.

South Africa said eventually that it would consider extradition, but Mengistu returned to Zimbabwe before procedures could begin.

Mengistu said he had helped Southern African freedom fighters, and that this was one reason why he did not think South Africa's ANC government would send him back to Ethiopia.

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