July 21, 2005
Ethiopia's two main opposition groups said on Tuesday that probes into alleged mass fraud in disputed May elections had been a "total failure" and accused the government of harrassing witnesses.
The Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUD) and the United Ethiopian Democratic Forces (UEDF) told reporters that one witness was killed and 11 others arrested on Sunday after testifying before a panel set up by the national election board.
The reported killing and arrests in the Meragna district in southern Oromia region, which could not be independently confirmed, are part of what the opposition says is a pattern of intimidation of witnesses to alleged fraud that sparked deadly violence in the capital last month in which at least 37 people were killed.
"In Eastern Gojjam [north of Addis Ababa] almost all our witnesses were harassed, were given death threats, residences were set on fire and people beaten," said Gezachew Shiferaw, a CUD official.
He and officials from the UEDF alleged at a joint news conference here that in addition to the harassment, the election board investigatory panels were favouring the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).
"The environment in which the panel conducted the investigation was too flawed to ascertain that there was no vote rigging," said CUD vice chairperson Berhanu Nega.
"CUD and UEDF strongly believe that the investigation process was a complete failure," he said in a statement also signed by Beyene Petros, the vice-chairperson of the UEDF, which said opposition witnesses were being routinely ignored.
"Ninety percent of our complaints are going in favour of the ruling party," Beyene said.
"We are being favoured in only six percent of what we complained [about], this is one indicator how the Nebe [National Electoral Board of Ethiopia] is favouring the ruling party."
The two groups, which accuse the EPRDF of trying to steal the May 15 polls, called for the government and the electoral board to take steps to salvage probes into alleged fraud in at least 140 of the 523 contested constituencies.
A spokesperson for the Nebe defended the investigations by saying not all the probes had been completed and that in at least 10 of the 26 that had been concluded there was no indication of any partiality by panel members.
In those cases "everything is in line with the agreed terms of reference and procedural rule of conduct", said the spokesperson, Getahun Amogne.
But Ethiopian government said the opposition had failed to prove the accusations and accused them plotting to derail the process.
"As they are failing to prove their complaints on the ground and unable to substantiate their allegations they are simply trying to derail the process. Their alleged joint statement at a press conference today is nothing [more] than a face-saving tactic as they are losing the ground in the investigation," Ethiopia's Information Minister Berekat Simon said.
"As far as we are concerned, the investigation process is going on the right track and in accordance to the rules of the game. The process is moving as it is intended to do," Bereket added.