Zimbabwe’s government has once again rejected calls for the extradition of former Ethiopian leader Mengistu Haile Mariam to his country to face trial. The latest call came from Zimbabwe’s main opposition group, the Movement for Democratic Change. The party is urging President Robert Mugabe to follow the example of Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, who handed over former Liberian leader Charles Taylor for trial.
In an interview with English to Africa reporter Ashenafi Abedje, Zimbabwe’s information minister, Tichaona Jokonya, explained his government’s position: “Mengistu came to Zimbabwe as a fugitive; he came as a refugee, and under the United Nations convention, a refugee is protected in the country he flies to.” Jokonya says when Mengistu was overthrown, he (Jokonya) traveled to Ethiopia and met the new prime minister. He said the prime minister categorically made it clear that “Mengistu’s case was not an issue as it relates to our relations between Zimbabwe and Ethiopia.”
The Zimbabwean minister says he sees no analogy between Nigeria extraditing Charles Taylor to face charges and the case involving Mengistu. He says the only parallel lies in the fact that both former leaders were whisked out of their respective countries and offered asylum “to prevent bloodshed and in the interests of peace.” Jokonya says the Ethiopian government has not made a formal request for extradition.
The information minister says he “regrets” a lot of things that took place in Ethiopia under Mengistu’s rule. He says, “Quite a lot of things happened which should never have happened. I don’t condone what was happening there. I absolutely think it was most unfortunate for that great country to go through this terrible period.” But he says, “They should be seen in the context of civil conflict and (the) complex situation that existed in the country at the time.” He says most of all, the integrity and unity of the country was at stake.
Jokonya says while he laments the events in Ethiopia, he credits Mengistu for “joining in the liberation struggle of southern Africa, as some of our freedom fighters were trained in Ethiopia.”