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Tuesday, 28 December, 1999, 12:58 GMT
Mengistu defends 'Red Terror'

Mengistu said the revolution helped millions of peasants

Former Ethiopian dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam, who is wanted in his homeland for genocide, has defended his 17-year rule in a rare interview.

Speaking from Zimbabwe where he is in exile, Mr Mengistu told the South African daily, The Star, that his regime had come to power by popular revolution.



The so-called genocide was a war in defence of the revolution
Mengistu Haile Mariam Thousands of people were killed by Mr Mengistu's Dergue regime during the period now known as the Red Terror Campaign.

He told the newspaper that the Red Terror was merely a "fight between two different social groups," one of which was trying to overthrow his government.

"We had to organise people into urban defence units and rural defence committees and peasants' associations to defend the country," he said.

"The so-called genocide was this war in defence of the revolution".

Denies killing Haile Selassie

Mr Mengistu said the revolution had been necessary to replace the "very backward, archaic and feudalist system" of Emperor Haile Selassie, who was overthrown in 1974.

He denied having ordered the death of Haile Selassie, saying: "He was 80 years old and a very weak man. We tried our best to save him but we could not keep him."

He said his socialist revolution had helped millions of poor peasants who had struggled under imperial rule.

He blamed former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev for the collapse of the Dergue, which had previously received military and financial support from Moscow.

The present Ethiopian Government comprised "narrow nationalists and counter-revolutionaries," he said, who had "no legal or moral ground to judge the Ethiopian revolution."

Ongoing trials

Mr Mengistu aroused interest among South Africans earlier this month when he arrived in Johannesburg for medical treatment.

The Ethiopian authorities requested his extradition from South Africa, but the former dictator returned to Zimbabwe before the extradition proceedings began.

Zimbabwe has turned already turned down several requests to extradite him.

Several people associated with the Dergue regime are being tried in Ethiopia for crimes against humanity.

Reports from Ethiopia say a former police officer who served under Mr Mengistu was jailed on Tuesday for 15 years, as part of ongoing trials of those alleged to have participated in the "Red Terror".

The Federal High Court in Addis Ababa on Monday found Colonel Zeleke Zerihun guilty of genocide and other charges, notably "recommending the execution of five individuals", the government Ethiopian Herald daily reported.

Zeleke is the fifth person to have been sentenced for his part in the "Red Terror".

Earlier this month two senior officers from Mr Mengistu's regime were sentenced to death in their absence.

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See also: 22 Dec 99 |  Africa US admits helping Mengistu escape 08 Dec 99 |  Africa Mengistu skips South Africa 06 Dec 99 |  Africa No decision on Mengistu extradition 03 Dec 99 |  Africa Ethiopians push SA for Mengistu extradition 09 Nov 99 |  Africa Fall of the Wall echoes in Africa
Internet links: Human Rights Watch: Mengistu Ethiopian Government Spokesperson
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