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Prime Minister Meles Zenawi told the Ethiopian parliament in early July his government had successfully attained its three main objectives for the year: the recapturing of disputed territory in its war with Eritrea, holding general elections, and combatting drought. In pursuing these tasks, the government had more often than not ignored human rights and humanitarian standards despite its professed commitment to such standards.

Ethiopia on May 12 launched a massive attack against Eritrea and successfully retook disputed territories that Eritrea had occupied at the beginning of the war, while seriously weakening the military capacity of its former ally. The two countries on June 18 agreed to a cessation ofhostilities agreement brokered by the Organization of African Unity (OAU). The two-year conflict was estimated to have killed and wounded tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians and uprooted nearly a million people. Displaced Eritreans fleeing the fighting credibly reported the involvement of the Ethiopian army in large-scale destruction and looting of civilian property, the harassment of civilians, particularly men of military age, and in a high incidence of rape.

By early 2000, Ethiopian authorities, citing broad threats to national security, had forcibly expelled some 70,000 Ethiopians of Eritrean parentage to Eritrea. The government arbitrarily seized those of Eritrean descent, held them in harsh detention conditions and allowed no challenge to their expulsion. By summarily denying the nationality rights of the overwhelming majority of those expelled, most of whom were lifelong Ethiopian citizens, the campaign in effect rendered them stateless. It divided families, forcibly separating many from spouses and children whose Ethiopian nationality was not challenged, and expropriated their properties.

An estimated forty thousand Ethiopian residents of Eritrea returned to Ethiopia under duress in the months that followed the outbreak of hostilities. Eritrean authorities interned thousands of Ethiopian residents under harsh conditions in the wake of Ethiopia's offensive in May, citing unspecified threats to national security, and the need to protect the internees from angry mobs. By the end of June, in addition to the tens of thousands who had fled at the onset of the war, some 4,600 Ethiopian residents left Eritrea after their release from weeks of internment. Their repatriation occurred under the auspices of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), acting as a mutually accepted neutral intermediary. Eritrea also repatriated several thousand Ethiopian residents without prior coordination with the ICRC and their government.

The war with Eritrea further fueled the ongoing low-level armed insurgencies in Ogaden region and in the state of Oromia. In these two and several other remote regions, the government continued to hold under harsh conditions, and without charge or trial, thousands of people it suspected of sympathizing with insurgents.

The Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), and the southern Sidama Liberation Front (SLF) in a joint May 16 statement charged that famine affecting their eastern and southern states was the result of "deliberate negligence" from the central government. The three fronts complained that the government forcibly recruited thousands of young men from their regions to use them as "mine sweepers" and "cannon fodder" in its war with Eritrea. Independent journalists and NGO workers who interviewed Ethiopian prisoners of war in Eritrea said many were under the age of eighteen, and reported testimonies that tended to corroborate charges of coercive recruitment and poor training.

The OLF blamed the government for ignoring a peace proposal it had tabled in February, and actively pursued in July and September the unification of several Oromo armed opposition groups under one umbrella to "increase the effectiveness of Oromo opposition to the government." There was no independent confirmation of claims by the OLF in August, and by the ONLF in September, that they had inflicted heavy casualties on government troops in separate clashes. The OLF claimed in early June that government soldiers arrested two hundred people in Malka Jabdu, a small village near the site at which a train ferrying military supplies from the port of Djibouti to the capital Addis Ababa was derailed in May by a landmine explosion for which the OLF claimed responsibility. Coming under government suspicion of active opposition to the war effort, many members of the Oromo community fled various forms of harassment and intimidation to seek asylum in neighboring Kenya and elsewhere.

Elections went ahead on May 14, two days after Ethiopia launched its largest military offensive against Eritrea since the beginning of the war. The government denied claims that the timing was meant to give an advantage to its ruling coalition, and said it needed no such assistance to win the elections. The government's assertion appeared well-founded in view of the level of control it exerted on the democratic transition to federalism. Independent opposition parties and coalitions of ethnically based groups opposed to the government continued to face severe government restrictions that limited their ability to freely compete in elections. The opposition to the EPRDF also suffered from internal organizational weaknesses and frequent divisions among its members, but several opposition parties and independent candidates competed in the May 2000 elections. Still, EPRDF affiliates were the sole contestants in over 50 percent of the constituencies in the contest for the lower house of parliament, eight of the nine regional councils, and the governments of the capital and the second largest city. The EPRDF scooped a predictable 85 percent of the seats in the federal legislature, and its members and satellite parties won control of the regional assemblies. On October 10, in its first sitting, the new parliament reelected Meles Zenawi prime minister for a five-year term.

Allegations of fraud and violence marred the May elections, particularly in rural areas. The independent monitoring group Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRCO) reported election related incidents of abuse of opposition candidates and supporters, including killings, the arbitrary detention of opposition candidates and their transfer or dismissal from employment, and incidents involving the wounding of opposition supporters by gunshots. EHRCO also reported in February that Ethiopians of Eritrean descent who remained in the country could not participate in the May elections because authorities questioned their citizenship. In early March, Beyene Petros, chairman of the opposition Southern Ethiopian Peoples' Democratic Coalition (SEPDC), accused the ruling EPRDF of subjecting members of his party to arbitrary arrest and imprisonment. After the polling started, Petros complained that police had killed seven SEPDC supporters who were protesting against electoral fraud outside two polling stations in the south. Responding to incidents of irregularities and violence, the election board nullified election results in sixteen districts in the southern region and organized fresh elections a month later.

The Ethiopian government continued to restrict the freedom of speech and the press. Twenty-seven Ethiopian journalists lived in exile at this writing, having fled their homeland due to repeated arrests and ill-treatment in detention. Among the latest to flee, in February, was Dawit Kebede, editor-in-chief of the Amharic weekly Fiameta, and member of the executive committee of the Ethiopian Free Press Journalists' Association (EFPJA). The government only recognized EFPJA in March, seven years after the independent association first submitted its application for registration.

Eight reporters remained behind bars. Four had been in custody for up to two years before being sentenced to one year imprisonment, and they remained in custody on new charges. Tamrat Gemeda, of the weekly Seif Nebelball, and Tesfaye Deressa, Garuma Bekele, and Solomon Nemera, of Urji, were arrested in October 1997 for publishing "false information" for the prominence given by the two papers to Oromo issues and the conflict between the OLF and the government. The four faced new charges of membership in terrorist movements. The government held another thirty-one journalists on a short leash during 2000, having released them on very high bail pending court hearings.

In mid-August, sudden increases in printing costs, by more than a third, put additional pressures on some thirty-six private publications as well as the government press. The private newspapers went on strike from September 11-17, and warned that the high production costs could eventually force them out of print. They urged the government to reduce taxation on imported paper and other print inputs.

Human Rights Watch World Report 2000

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