June 28th, 2011

The United States Government will not extradite Berhanu Nega (PhD), founder of the Ginbot 7 Movement for Justice, Freedom and Democracy, despite an Ethiopian parliament resolution that designated his grouping a terrorist group, Capital understands.

Following parliament’s resolution, the Ethiopian government says it will seek cooperation from partners to eliminate threats including from the Ginbot 7. It appears its major ally, the US, could hold back.

“There is currently no extradition treaty between the United States and Ethiopia,” said Diane Brandt, the US embassy spokesperson, when asked if the US will handover Berhanu Nega to Ethiopian authorities if asked to do so. There is a standing arrest warrant for Berhanu who was handed out the death penalty by a court in 2009 after being tried in absentia against charges of trying to topple the constitutional order and assassinate senior government officials.

The Untied States and Ethiopia have for long enjoyed close cooperation in fighting violent terrorist activities in the horn of Africa areas particularly Somali based groups such as Al-Shabaab which together with the infamous al-Qa’ida were designated as terrorist groups in an Ethiopian parliament resolution that came on June 14.

A first of its kind, under the Ethiopian Anti-Terrorism law endorsed in 2009, three domestic groups were similarly designated terrorists by the resolution. Unlike many countries’ laws that empower executives to designate associations as terrorist, the law mandates parliament conduct such measures. Other than Ginbot 7, Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) were also named terrorists.

“All countries who have terrorist threats have called at times for other countries to support their efforts to fight terrorism; the same goes for Ethiopia as well and we will try to explain the nature and the real threat Ethiopia is facing in relation to terrorism,” said Bereket Simon, Minister of the Government Communication Affairs Office. According to the senior cabinet minister, who spoke to Capital on Friday, his government hopes more countries will join the fight against terrorism and also cooperate with Ethiopia to eliminate threats it is faced with.

The US embassy spokesperson Mrs. Brandt says Ginbot 7, OLF and ONLF are not considered terrorists in the US’ eyes.

Further complicating matters for Addis Ababa and Washington is the fact that Ginbot 7 is based in the US and its main leaders, including the founder Dr Berhanu Nega reside there.

“Although the domestic groups have not been designated as terrorist organizations in the US, we do not consider violence to be a legitimate means of political expression,” Brandt said. The remark is the first one that criticizes the policy of the so called all means struggle of Ginbot 7 that vows to undertake to topple the Ethiopian government including through violence. The US embassy however fell short of promising to assist Ethiopia in putting a stop to Ginbot 7 activities or handing over the group members sought by Ethiopia.

“It is a position of one sovereign country, we respect it,” said Bereket when asked to comment on the embassy’s stand. “We believe cooperation in fighting this international threat [terrorism] is a necessity but the degree to which any country at any time cooperates with another country in a specific type of terrorist activity could be different and we recognize that,” Bereket said. The minister however added that Ethiopia will continue the struggle to convince partners to cooperate against such threats.

“Terrorism is an international phenomenon which operates with disregard to national boundaries. So terrorism is enemy to mankind and we hope everybody who has a clear interest in fighting terrorism will contribute their share,” the minister said.

Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in a press conference last year, said that Ethiopia will weigh officially asking the US to handover Berhanu and other Ginbot 7 leaders residing in the US. According to a senior American political analyst and official who spoke after the Ginbot 7 convictions, it may not be in the best interest of the Ethiopian government to ask for the extraditions.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if some folks say yes let us hand over Berhanu to Ethiopia. But it will also trigger opposition. This could lead to a debate and an overall assessment and drawing of a new policy towards Ethiopia which is a risk the Ethiopia government will be taking if it asks for extraditions. I don’t think that would be wise,” said the official who spoke to Capital on condition of anonymity. –Capital


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