March 15, 2006

Genocide verdict for Ethiopia’s Mengistu due in May

By Tsegaye Tadesse

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - A verdict in the genocide trial
against Ethiopia's exiled former dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam
is due on May 23 after 14 years of proceedings, a court said on

Mengistu -- who fled to Zimbabwe in 1991 after guerrilla
forces led by now Prime Minister Meles Zenawi ousted his
17-year-old Marxist regime -- is being tried in absentia.

He and other members of a notoriously brutal military junta
are accused of killing of more than 1,000 people in the
so-called "Red Terror" purges, including former Emperor Haile
Selassie whom he dethroned in 1974.

Ethiopia's High Court said it would also rule on the same
day on genocide charges against various of Mengistu's
followers, believed to number about 100.

The co-accused include former prime minister Fikre Selassie
Wogderesse, former vice president Fissiha Desta and about 40
other top officials from the Mengistu era who have been in
prison awaiting a verdict since 1992.

The others are also in exile and being tried in absentia.

"The indictment process (against) Lt. Colonel Mengistu
Haile Marium on genocide charges has come to an end," the
state-run Ethiopian News Agency quoted the court as saying.

"The court will give its final verdict against all those
accused on May 23, 2006."

The iron-fisted leftist dictator escaped Ethiopia after he
and two former military officials were given sanctuary in the
Italian embassy in Addis Ababa.

Under Ethiopian law, genocide is defined as intent to wipe
out political and not just ethnic groups.

Human rights groups have criticized the length of the
trial, but the prosecution argues that the complex nature of
the evidence is what has delayed the verdicts.