ST. PAUL, Minn. – The United States should stop supporting the Ethiopian government’s aggression against its opposition if there is to be peace in the Horn of Africa region, an official of the Oromo Liberation Front said.
Hassan Hussein, the foreign relations head of the Ethiopian-based OLF, accused the U.S. government of continued collaboration with the Ethiopian regime of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, despite consistent reports of human rights abuses in that country.
“Zenawi is an enemy of peace, not only inside Ethiopia, but look what’s happening in Somalia, where his troops are killing innocent civilians,” Hussein told a crowd of nearly a thousand people, who gathered outside the State Capitol to demonstrate against Ethiopia’s treatment of Oromos.
Hussein said time had come for the U.S. government to cease its diplomatic ties with Zenawi’s regime. Instead, Hussein said the Bush administration could play an active role as a mediator between the OLF movement and the Ethiopian government. Hussein appealed to Washington to initiate space for dialogue with the Ethiopian government that would bring the two sides to the negotiating table to meet face to face and talk about ways of resolving their differences peacefully.
The Oromos, who make up an estimated 32 percent of Ethiopia’s 76.5 million people, have been involved in a conflict with the central government for over a decade and a half. One of the major issues of the conflict is the state of Oromo prisoners in Ethiopian prisons and the continued handing down of sentences against Oromo people on what many feel are trumped up charges. Oromos also say their kinsmen in refugee camps around the Horn of Africa live in constant fear of being kidnapped by Ethiopian security agents.
Hussein told the crowd that the Ethiopian population and the government were being led by a person who ruled with “an iron fist.”
The demonstration, which was organized by the International Oromo Youth Organization, brought together hundreds of people from the Oromo ethnic community in the United States, Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom. Dubbed the Annual Oromo Convention, the gathering, according to Damee Ormaa, the immediate vice president of the youth association, was meant to bring the community together.The convention was also aimed at raising funds for several developmental projects in and out of Ethiopia.
The demonstration kicked off at the intersection of Dale Street and University Ave. in St. Paul before snaking through traffic on its way to the State Capitol. Waving placards that condemned torture and illegal detention by Ethiopian security forces, the participants, dressed in traditional Oromo regalia, braved the scorching heat to hear their leaders speak.
“You cant imagine a government functioning like this, rounding up people in a village and taking them to mountains to be shot and their bodies left for hyenas to feed, only because they are suspected to have links with the OLF,” said Ormaa. “It’s against anybody’s imagination”
Ormaa alleged that students from his community were being expelled from schools and universities for engaging in demonstrations against the Ethiopian regime.
The group, under the umbrella of the International Oromo Youth Association, has already written a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Rep. Keith Ellison and Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Norm Coleman to bring to their attention the “trials and tribulations of the parents, relatives and friends in Oromia and other parts of Ethiopia feeling the pain and sufferings of their compatriots who are denied the right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness because of their yearning for democratic governance.”