A senior Ethiopian official says his
government has a responsibility to maintain law and order and would not be
swayed by outside criticism. The official, Bereket Simon, an advisor to Prime
Minister Meles Zenawi, was responding to a letter from four influential U.S.
senators to the Ethiopian prime minister.
In their letter, the four senators,
including Russell Feingold, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee
on Africa, warned that U.S.-Ethiopian relations could become more difficult
because of the Ethiopian government's actions against its opposition.
senators said they were concerned about the re-arrest of opposition leader
Birtukan Midekssa and the passage of a law restricting civil society groups.
Simon, advisor to the Ethiopian prime minister told VOA the U.S. senators' criticism and
accusations are unwarranted.
anyone is breaking the law, it's their problem and not our problem. Ethiopian
government believes government has a mandate and an obligation to ensure the
rule of law in Ethiopia. So it's an unwarranted accusation and criticism," he
senators said in their letter that they were concerned about the re-arrest of
opposition leader Birtukan Midekssa. Simon said the opposition leader broke the
rules of her conditional pardon.
these opposition leaders had been tried and sentenced, and they asked for
conditional pardon. Government granted them a conditional pardon which
literally means if this person once again transgresses the law of the land, it
would be a breach of the pardon, and that's what she did. We don't accept
double standard here. We believe citizens who don't have the backing of (U.S.)
senators are equal to those who don't have the backing of senators wherever.
She has made mistakes and she has to account for it. Why should we be
criticized by the senators?" Simon said.
letter, dated January 16th, was signed by Senator Russell Feingold,
chair of the Senate's subcommittee on African Affairs. Other signatories are
Senator Patrick Leahy, Richard Durbin, and Johnny Isakson.
senators criticized Ethiopia's recent law restricting civil society groups. Simon
said foreigners do not have the same political rights as Ethiopian citizens to
participate in Ethiopian affairs.
law differentiates between citizens and foreign-based NGO. Citizens have every
right to participate in Ethiopian politics. In fact it is mandated by Ethiopian
Constitution. So government cannot put a limit. On the other hand, those
foreign-based NGOs who are here because of the privilege that is given to them
by the government do not have the political rights to participate in Ethiopian
affairs," Simon said.
said Ethiopia is not worried about the U.S. Senators' criticism of the Meles
Zenawi government, especially at a time when a new U.S. administration led by
Barack Obama is about to take over the leadership of the U.S. government.
matter what the times might be, these Congressmen are telling us not to enact
laws that are useful to Ethiopia. They are going to put pressure on us because
we enacted our own laws. This Ethiopia; it's a sovereign state. I don't think
any Congressman can tell us what to do," Simon said.