'Butcher of Addis Ababa' is guilty of genocide with torture regime
THE former Ethiopian dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam was found guilty in absentia of genocide yesterday after the 12-year trial of one of Africa's bloodiest governments.
Mengistu, known as the Butcher of Addis Ababa, was accused with top members of his government of killing thousands during a 17-year rule which began with the toppling of Haile Selassie in 1974 and included purges and famine.
"Members of the Derg [Mengistu's junta] who are present in court today and those who are being tried in absentia have conspired to destroy a political group and kill people with impunity," said the high court judgment. "They set up a hit squad to decimate, torture and destroy groups opposing the Mengistu regime."
The genocide verdict, which carries a death sentence, was passed by two votes to one on the three-judge panel.
The dissenting judge said the crimes did not fit the definition of genocide. Mengistu was ousted by guerrillas led by the prime minister Meles Zenawi in 1991 and fled to Zimbabwe, where he leads a luxurious though reclusive life.
The government in Zimbabwe had no official comment, but the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change said he should go home.
Some experts have estimated that 150,000 students, intellectuals and politicians were killed in a nationwide purge by Mengistu's regime.
Mengistu was tried in Addis Ababa with 73 others, including ex-prime minister Fikre Selassie Wogderesse and former vice-president Fissiha Desta.
All were found guilty, except for one, Corporal Begashaw Gurmesa. He was ruled to have opposed the purges while working as a regional administrator and was set free after 16 years in jail. "I am very glad," he said as he was released.
About half the accused were in court. They betrayed little emotion as the verdict came.
Fourteen of the accused have died since proceedings began in 1992, while 25, including Mengistu, are in exile.
In the 1977-78 "Red Terror" campaign, the most notorious of the purges, suspected opponents were executed by garrotting or shooting.
Many Ethiopians hope the verdict, postponed from May, will close the door on one of the country's darkest periods.
"Mengistu sought to right the wrongs made by his feudal predecessors, but in the end he committed far greater wrongs than they did," businessman Ephraim Zwede said.
"At least the killers of our children are convicted," added Hailu Abera, who lost a cousin in the Red Terror.
"I am relieved. We as a nation went through so much under Mengistu."
Mengistu's most prominent alleged victim was Emperor Haile Selassie, said to have been strangled in bed and secretly buried under a latrine in his palace.
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