A senior U.S. State Department official plans to return to Ethiopia in January as part of the United States’ efforts to diffuse the country’s internal political tensions.
Donald Yamamoto, the deputy assistant secretary of state for Africa, held three days of talks in Addis Ababa last week with Ethiopian government leaders and the families of detained opposition leaders.
Secretary Yamamoto said the United States continues to push all sides to discuss their differences at the negotiating table. Talks between the government and opposition parties broke down in early October.
But the American envoy said that before reconciliation talks can be effective, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s government should respect the legal rights of jailed opposition leaders, human rights advocates and journalists. The senior American diplomat said he raised this issue in face-to-face talks with Mr. Meles.
“I know that the government’s position is to try them and to go through the judicial process,” he said. “But the issue that comes in is that the detainees become the news item rather than the discussion of the political reform, and until the detainee issue is fully resolved, then the discussion and reconciliation efforts will in some ways will be overshadowed.”
The Bush Administration has come under pressure from several leading members of Congress to take a more forceful role in stabilizing Ethiopia’s political environment.
The United States considers Ethiopia an important partner in counter-terrorism efforts in the Horn of Africa. Secretary Yamamota said the United States values its relations with Mr. Meles’ government and the Ethiopian people.
But he also said there needs to be respect for democracy.
“You can’t have a strong counter-terrorism partner unless the country is fully developed and dedicated to democratic values,” the diplomat said. “And those are the areas we are trying to point Ethiopia toward.”
Border Issue Remains a Concern
The United States and its European Union partners have been waging a two-front diplomatic effort in the Horn. Besides trying to calm Ethiopia’s post-election unrest, they seek to diffuse tensions over the boundary with Eritrea.
Secretary Yamamoto said the U.S. position is that both sides accept the 2003 boundary commission’s demarcation and proceed with normalizing relations. He called Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki’s recent decision to expel American, Russian, Canadian and European peacekeepers “provocative.”
President Isaias has complained that the United Nations is not applying enough pressure on Ethiopia to accept the 2003 demarcation decision.
“As we told President Isaias, we are doing the best effort we can but we also need to help of Eritrea as well as Ethiopia to ensure that demarcation takes place,” Secretary Yamamoto said. “And hammering or sanctioning one side or the other may make the other side happy, but it’s not going to get the process moving forward, and that’s what we want to do.”
The United States supported a recent U.N. Security Council resolution calling on both Eritrea and Ethiopia to respect international agreements and allow U.N. peacekeepers to carry out their mission along the tense border.