Ethiopia Honors Victims of Marxist Junta

The Associated Press
Sunday, May 27, 2007; 8:49 PM

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia -- Thousands of Ethiopians gathered in the capital on Sunday to remember victims of a brutal Marxist junta, weeping at the sight of flower-covered coffins with remains from mass graves across the country.

The service marked the anniversary of the downfall of the junta's leader, Mengistu Haile Mariam _ known as "the butcher of Addis Ababa" _ who is living in exile in Zimbabwe.

Some experts say 150,000 university students, intellectuals and politicians were killed in a nationwide purge by Mengistu's Marxist regime, the Dergue, though no one knows for sure.

Even those who were young during the 1974-1991 regime carried dark memories of the Red Terror, the 1977-78 siege when the government killed and imprisoned thousands of people.

Ahmed Hussein said that three decades ago police brought his younger brother home from jail and asked the family to gather outside.

"They shot him in front of us," Ahmed said, his eyes welling with tears. "We were not allowed to cry."

Elderly women clutched black-and-white photographs of loved ones and wailed during the ceremony.

"I used to see dead bodies on the street when I went to school," said Michael Melake, 35, an environmental activist. "It was like a kind of Holocaust for Ethiopia," he said.

The government is planning to erect a monument, library and museum in the capital to commemorate the victims.

Muluadem Assefa, 39, clutched a photo of her father, Assefa Casa, whom she believes was killed in jail in the 1970s. She never saw her father again after he was taken to jail.

Ethiopia, which has a long history of human rights abuses, will not see another Red Terror, said Deputy Prime Minister Addisu Legese, who attended Sunday's ceremony.

"This will never, never happen again," he said. "We have fought for that."

© 2007 The Associated Press