HARARE (Reuters) – Ethiopia’s former Marxist ruler Mengistu Haile Mariam, sentenced to death by his country’s supreme court, will remain in Zimbabwe under the protection of President Robert Mugabe’s government, a government minister said on Tuesday.
“Our position has not changed. He remains our guest in Zimbabwe. He will remain in Zimbabwe and we will protect him as we’ve always done,” Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga said on Tuesday.
Ethiopia’s supreme court sentenced Mengistu to death on Monday, granting a prosecution appeal that a life sentence he received last year did not match the seriousness of this crimes.
Mengistu, who has lived a life of comfortable exile in Zimbabwe since he was driven from power in 1991, is unlikely to face punishment unless Mugabe loses a run-off election next month and gives up power.
Zimbabwe’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change, whose leader Morgan Tsvangirai will face Mugabe in a second round presidential vote on June 27, said dictators like Mengistu were not welcome in the country.
“It only takes a dictator to hang around fellow dictators. Birds of the same feather, this is why (Mugabe’s ruling) ZANU-PF is clinging on to Mengistu,” MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa said.
“We don’t want dictators on our land. The people of Ethiopia suffered for such a long time.”
Chamisa hinted that Mengistu may be extradited if Tsvangirai wins next month.
“Of course we do not condone killing or the death sentence as MDC, but we want justice to be delivered to the victims and to the perpetrators so that there’s restoration,” he said.
The MDC said in 2006 it would withdraw the protection afforded by Mugabe’s government, which considers Mengistu a friend of Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle.
Matonga said there had been no formal request regarding Mengistu from the Ethiopian government.
“Even if they make the request, he’s not going anywhere.”
The prosecution in Ethiopia appealed against a life term imposed on Mengistu in January 2007, after he was found guilty of genocide arising from thousands of killings during his 17-year rule that included famine, war and the “Red Terror” purges of suspected opponents.
He and more than a dozen other senior officers were found guilty after a 12-year trial that concluded Mengistu’s government was directly responsible for the deaths of 2,000 people and the torture of at least 2,400.
(Reporting by Nelson Banya; Writing by Marius Bosch; Editing by Giles Elgood)