Press Release

McCaine, Albright question Meles regime over expulsions


ADDIS ABABA (AFP) - Two US democracy groups expelled from Ethiopia ahead of next month's elections questioned the credibility of the polls as an EU observer team arrived here Friday to prepare to monitor the vote.

The National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the International Republican Institute (IRI) expressed "concern" and "dismay" at the March 30 expulsions that they said were the first of their workers by any government in the world.

"We are particularly perplexed by these expulsions at a time when your government has stated its intention to organize an open and democratic election process," they said in a letter to Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

"This action will only raise questions about the credibility and transparency of these elections," they told Meles whose ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) is battling numerous opposition parties in the hotly contested May 15 polls.

The letter, signed by former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright, the NDI chairwoman, and Senator John McCain, the IRI chair, was sent to Addis Ababa's embassy in Washington on Wednesday and seen here by AFP on Friday.

Ethiopia expelled NDI, IRI and a third US-based group IFES, formerly the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, because they had not properly registered to work in the country.

The three non-partisan organizations, funded by the US government to promote democracy and good governance around the world, had been working in the country to assist in preparations for the elections.

They acknowledged that they were not registered at the time of the expulsions but said they had been attempting to obtain the necessary accreditation since January to no avail.

They asked Meles, who is currently on an official visit to France, to reconsider the expulsions and allow the three groups back into the country ahead of the polls.

The expulsions were announced as the election campaign heated up with the government and opposition trading charges of impropriety and followed the release in February of a US report critical of Ethiopia's human rights record.

There was speculation in diplomatic circles that the move may have been related to Ethiopia's unhappiness over the report but officials in Addis Ababa denied this and noted that US groups had been invited to observe the polls.

Meanwhile, a team of 52 election observers from the European Union arrived in the capital on Friday to set up logistics for a larger EU monitoring operation.

The 52 long-term observers will be deployed in groups of two to 26 towns in eight regions around Ethiopia beginning on Monday and prepare for the May 10 arrival of 100 more monitors, said Rafael Lopez, the mission's deputy director.

The criticism from the US groups and arrival of the EU team came just a day after Ethiopia's state-run news agency reported that at least eight opposition members had been arrested for allegedly inciting pre-election violence.

And it comes as the EPRDF and members of the umbrella opposition Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) engage in increasingly bitter attacks on one another with each accusing the other of electoral malfeasance.

There are 1,845 candidates representing 36 political parties and independents running for the 480 seats up for grabs in the 547-member federal parliament, only 14 of which are held by the opposition.

The election, the third since Meles' EPRDF came to power in 1991, will be the first in Ethiopia to be held under international scrutiny although there have been complaints that local observers have been unfairly denied access.

Press Release

Following is the report the two U.S. officials sent to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi

National Democratic Institute for

International Affairs
Washington, DC

Prime Minister of Ethiopia

Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Your Excellency:

We write to express our concern and dismay over the recent expulsion from Ethiopia of representatives of the International Republican Institute (IRI), IFES, and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) by your government. With support from USAID, the three organizations sought to assist the democratic process and preparations for your May 15 general elections. These organizations carry out nonpartisan programs and support a democratic environment in which the integrity of the election process can be ensured and all parties understand their rights and responsibilities.

IRI, IFES, and NDI were coordinating with the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia to support the work of the election commission, dialogue among political parties and election authorities as a means of enhancing confidence and participation in the electoral process, political party pollwatching, and the creation of a code of conduct for the elections. All three organizations have been making good faith efforts to gain registration in accordance with established laws and procedures and were assured by representatives of your government that their registration would be approved expeditiously.

In over 20 years of working around the world, until now no government has expelled NDI, IRI, and IFES. We are particularly perplexed by these expulsions at a time when your government has stated its intention to organize an open and democratic election process. This action will only raise questions about the credibility and transparency of these elections.

The United States and Ethiopia have a history of friendship and cooperation. We continue to support the democratic aspirations of the Ethiopian people, and look forward to returning to Ethiopia to assist with future elections. Until then, we urge the Government of Ethiopia to work towards creating an environment conducive to increasingly free and fair elections.

Sincerely,

U.S. Senator John McCain

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