Ethiopia’s main opposition, the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) says the struggle in Ethiopia is a struggle for democracy, and it hopes the United States will stand on the side of those fighting for democracy in Ethiopia.
In July this year, the Ethiopian government pardoned and released from prison 38 of the country’s top opposition leaders. They had been arrested and charged with treason in a government crackdown following the 2005 parliamentary elections. Now a five-man delegation of the opposition CUD is in the United States.
Spokesman Hailu Araaya told VOA that the delegation is here to thank the Ethiopian Diaspora for its support.
“You know we have been in prison for almost 21 months, and the Ethiopians in the Diaspora have been helpful, so supportive in many ways such as diplomatically, financially and so on. So we wanted to come to this country to meet them face-to-face and say thank you to them. The other thing is there is a struggle going on in Ethiopia to establish democracy there, and this democracy needs the support of the people not only in Ethiopia but also outside Ethiopia. And we are here to discuss with them how best we can work together to promote the struggle for democracy in Ethiopia,” he said.
Araaya said the delegation has been meeting with members of the U.S. Congress, and he hoped similar meetings could be arranged with Bush administration officials.
“Yes we have met with Congressman Donald Payne (chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa), and tomorrow we are going to meet other senators. And we hope that some program could be worked out for us so that we would have the opportunity to meet some of the people in the State Department,” Araaya said.
At a forum in Washington recently to mark Ethiopia’s third millennium, one speaker said current U.S. Ethiopia relations were frustrating the quest for democracy in Ethiopia.
Araaya said current Ethiopia-U.S. relations are good, but he hoped they would get better with U.S. support for the struggle for democracy in Ethiopia.
“I think Ethio-American relations are good at the moment. We hope that they will keep improving because the United States is the supporter and champion of democracy, and the struggle going in Ethiopia is to establish democracy in Ethiopia. We see no reason why the United States will not stand on the side of those forces that are struggling for democracy. I remember when President Bush made the inaugural speech, he said that the United States will be standing on the side of those who also fight for democracy. And we hope that the United States will keep its word and be on the side of people, parties that are determined to establish democracy in their respective countries,” Araaya said.
When the Ethiopian government pardoned and released from prison 38 opposition leaders in July, the government said the opposition leaders had signed statement of apology.
Araaya confirmed the opposition did sign a statement to be released from prison.
“Well we were released on pardon basis. We were pardoned. As you said yes, we did sign a document and then on basis of that document, a pardon board reviewed our case and then presented to the president of the country, and the president issued a pardon declaration. And so we are released with all our full rights that a citizen should have,” Araaya said.
Araaya said the opposition leaders signed the statement voluntarily with an apology to the Ethiopian government.
“We signed it voluntarily. We apologized to the people, to the government. Yes, we did. That’s what the paper said, and that’s what we signed,” he said.
Ethiopia’s next elections are in January 2008. Araaya said the opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy would like to field candidates, but for now, it wants to concentrate on rebuilding.
"In principle we would like to participate in any kind of election. But as you know, we just came out of prison, and while we were in prison, our offices were closed and most of our activists were dispersed because of the harassment and other problems. So now what we’re trying to do is to regroup ourselves and also to obtain a certificate of recognition as a party,” he said.
On this month’s Sierra Leone presidential run-off election in which opposition candidate Ernest Bai Koroma defeated incumbent Vice President Solomon Berewa, Araaya said the Ethiopian opposition was proud of the performance of Sierra Leone Election Commission Chairwoman Christiana Thorpe.
“In the first place, we are very happy, we are proud of the electoral board in Sierra Leone. I wish our board would do the same thing. We hope the day will come when our electoral board would do the same. But I just wanted to say that we are very encouraged by what happened in Sierra Leone. And it could be a good moral symbol, very encouraging to us as opposition parties and also our electoral board would examine the Sierra Leone case and learn something from it,” Araaya said.