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Ethiopien - PM Meles interviewes om oppositionen og forholdet til Eritrea
ETHIOPIA: Interview with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi
IRINnews.org, 17. oktober 2005
Interview med premierminister Meles Zenawi om oppositionspartiet CUD, der boycotter arbejdet i Parlamentet samt om forholdet til Eritrea, som har lagt øgede restriktioner på de fredsbevarende FN-styrker, der overvåger grænsen mellem Eritrea og Ethiopien.
Question: Why did the government remove immunity from opposition members?
Answer: As far as the removal of immunity from some of the parliamentarians is concerned, legally speaking most lawyers in Ethiopia would tell you that the parliament need not have taken this step simply because of the fact that until they are sworn in they are not parliamentarians. They have not been sworn in; therefore they do not enjoy the immunity of parliamentarians. The immunity applies to parliamentarians so long as they are not involved in serious crimes. The chairman of the CUD [opposition Coalition of Unity and Democracy, Hailu Shawel] has on a number of occasions publicly declared his intention, the intention of his party, to remove the government through street action. That is an act of treason in any country and under any language. And treason as far as I know treason is a very serious crime in any country.
The government plan was on the one hand to convey a very clear political message and on the other to avoid room for all sorts of interpretations of the law; to make sure that people understand what the consequences of their actions are. People were saying that as soon as the parliamentarians were stripped of their immunity they would be locked up. It has been nearly a week now and that has not happened. So the intention of the government was not to take this action with a view to following it up quickly with the detention of those personalities involved. If it had been that we would have detained them and that has not happened. It was just a precautionary measure and it has not closed off any opportunities or options, whether it is dialogue or any other options.
Q: Will the government take any action against the chairman of the CUD given that you have accused him of an act of treason?
A: Our preference is not to be legalistic. Our preference is to seek political solutions to these problems, not legal ones. But of course there is the obligation of every government to see to it that the rules of the country are protected and implemented, otherwise you would have the risk of dereliction of duty. So we have to balance both the legal requirements and the political exigencies. So far we have refused to be provoked into acting in a purely legal fashion. We have been patiently seeking a political way out. We shall be patient until patience exhausts its potentialities.
Q: Why have you introduced new parliamentary rules that mean you need a majority to put forward an agenda, which has been criticised for not being democratic?
A: These procedures were designed on the basis of the procedures of well-established parliamentary democracies - Canada, Germany, India and of course the oldest parliamentary democracy, the UK. What we have said is while the intention and the plan was to emulate the procedures of these parliaments, if the result has in any way come short in terms of the democratic credentials of the procedures, to those procedures in the said countries, we would be happy to review them on the basis of this yardstick. The yardstick is the procedures in those four parliaments. If our procedures are found to be wanting as compared to these parliaments we have said we will be very happy to review them. I know of one case where the procedures might be wanting. In the case of Germany for example, anybody who does not sign an oath of loyalty to the constitution is automatically barred from being a parliamentarian. In our case he is suspended, not expelled from the parliament. So clearly there are some differences we would be very happy to review.
Q: Will you review those laws given that the opposition and the European Parliament have asked you to do so?
A: The objective of democratisation in Ethiopia is paramount to us. So we will take steps that we consider necessary and important for democratisation in Ethiopia. If those steps tally with the views of the European Parliament, then so much the better. If they don't - they have their views we have ours. So what we do with reviewing the parliamentary procedures has nothing to do with what the European Parliament may have or not have said. Democratisation in Ethiopia is being pursued because it is the right thing to do for us. It is not being pursued to please or displease anybody outside of Ethiopia. If our friends are pleased with democratic progress then that is the icing on the cake. We would be happy and prepared to review the parliamentary procedures and discuss this with the opposition.
Q: If the CUD continues to boycott parliament, what action will you take?
A: You have to separate boycotting parliament and plans to carry out change of government through street action. Boycotting parliament is not a crime under Ethiopian law, so action cannot be taken against parliamentarians who are simply boycotting parliament. Our beef with the CUD is simply not about boycotting or not boycotting parliament. This is whether the CUD will become a normal parliamentary party with no intention of changing the system through street action. The CUD has not minced words. Its declarations are crystal clear. The chairman has said on a number of occasions that the intention of the CUD programme is to remove the government, full stop. That is their agenda. That is illegal, that is an act of treason under Ethiopian law. That is the problem we have with the CUD.
Q: The UN Security Council has called on both Ethiopia and Eritrea to get together to resolve their dispute. What is your view on this call?
A: We agree with the recommendation of the Security Council, they are right. This problem has to be resolved by peaceful means. Any other option, in my view, is insanity. If this is to be resolved by peaceful means it can only be resolved through dialogue. We have always been ready for dialogue. We have a five-point peace plan on the table so we would agree with what the Security Council said.
Q: The UN has said restrictions imposed on them by Eritrea are reducing their monitoring capabilities on the border. Do you think Eritrea is preparing for war?
A: I have no way of knowing what is in the minds of those making those decisions and at this stage I would not want to speculate. I would like to point out that the Algiers Agreement [peace accord signed in 2000 after the two-year border war with Eritrea] is a series of agreements. We have a ceasefire agreement signed sometime in the early summer of 2000 and the final agreement which was signed at the end of 2000. Now the ceasefire agreement, among other things includes provisions for the Security Council to act on the basis of Chapter Seven of its charter in the event that the ceasefire agreement has been violated by one or the other side. Therefore, I think it is worth pointing out that the activities of UNMEE, which are based on the ceasefire agreement, are backed by the powers of the Security Council to invoke Chapter Seven provisions to see to it that the ceasefire agreement remains intact.
Q: Are you concerned about statements of impending war emanating from Eritrea?
A: Clearly the statements coming out from Asmara are unhelpful, but if you ask me whether I have sleepless nights with regards to these statements the answer is no. Let us not kid ourselves, it is not UNMEE that is preventing the Eritrean army from pouring over the border; at best it is a trip wire and we want this trip wire to be around and we want it to act as per specifications and we will not accept modifications of these specifications and we believe the powers that be must be aware of this. Having said that, as soon as UNMEE has problems of carrying out its missions, it doesn't mean that all hell will be let loose. As a government we carefully monitor activities on both sides of the border. As a government we have taken all the necessary precautionary measures - not now but years ago. As a government we are still hopeful the other side will not miscalculate and on the basis of an evaluation of all the circumstances, whilst naturally I am concerned as anybody else, I do not have sleepless nights as a result of these statements.
Q: Have you taken preparations if Eritrea chooses to launch a war?
A: The point is these statements have been coming on a more or less regular basis every six months and the government has taken note of those when they were first issued. As you might remember at the time we tabled the five-point plan we took measures to make sure that we do not provoke the Eritrean government through weakness. Therefore we have beefed up our defence capabilities around the border. There is not much we can do to add to that now. Therefore there is no point wracking one's brains over such statements given that they are coming every six months. I am sure the Ethiopian people are quite aware of what we have done, quite a long while ago, to prevent any miscalculation. Therefore I do not see any new aspects to the problem. The old aspects have been with us for quite a long while. As soon as they are ready to engage us in dialogue we will be very glad to engage to find a lasting solution.
Q: Both your peace plan and calls for dialogue have been rejected by Eritrea. Are you prepared to make any other concessions?
A: The point that we have made, and the point that is a matter of common sense, starting dialogue, initiating dialogue among parties who are in dispute, who want to resolve their problems peacefully, is a matter of common sense. The negotiation doesn't start before dialogue; the negotiation starts after the initiation of dialogue - the give and take starts after. Therefore, I believe we have on the table a document that is more than adequate for the initiation of dialogue between Ethiopia and Eritrea. As you will remember, many countries have welcomed the five-point plan when it was presented as a major breakthrough. So with regards to dialogue the ball is very clearly in Eritrea's court.
Q: Would you be prepared to meet President Issayas to bring about this dialogue?
A: We are prepared to talk to anybody. Dialogue on the five point plan, or any other alternative that comes up, which has a realistic chance of success is fine with us. We are not selective as who to meet, who to meet or any of these modalities. To me they are purely technical issues. I have no problem talking with anybody so long as it serves peace, democracy and development in Ethiopia.
Q: Why should Eritrea negotiate when the original boundary commission decision was final and binding?
A: With regard to this mantra that the boundary commission's decision is final and binding, this has been said over and over again like a broken gramophone record. It is as if they have been stuck in a groove. Nobody is questioning it. We have not questioned the fact that the boundary commission's decision is final and binding. We don't like the decision. We feel it is unfair. Nevertheless we have not questioned the final and binding nature of the decision. Indeed, in my five-point plan, we explicitly state that we accept the decision, even if we don't like it, we accept the decision in principle. What is at stake now is how do you implement the decision. You could implement the decision by dissecting villages left, right and centre and creating a permanent source of tension, or having accepted the decision as final and binding, you could, as is normally the case, make adjustments at the stage of implementation on the basis of give and take, mutual understanding to try and find a solution that has lasting effects as far as peace is concerned. That is all we are talking about. We are saying let's follow normal practice, making minor adjustments on the ground as we go along to avoid tension and the seeds for future conflict.