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Ex-ruler found guilty of genocide

Ethiopia's exiled dictator could face the death penalty.

December 13, 2006|From the Associated Press

ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA — Former Ethiopian dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam was convicted Tuesday of genocide in a rare case of an African strongman being held to account by his country.

Mengistu, who has been living in exile in Zimbabwe, was convicted in absentia after a 12-year trial. He could face the death penalty at his Dec. 28 sentencing.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe said he would not deport Mengistu if he refrained from making political statements or comments to the media.

The trial focused on Mengistu's alleged involvement in the killing of nearly 2,000 people during a 1977-78 campaign known as the Red Terror that targeted supposed enemies of his Soviet-backed regime.

A panel of judges, sitting before a packed courtroom, convicted him of instigating and committing genocide, illegal imprisonment and abuse of power.

Mengistu ruled from 1974 to 1991 after his military junta ended Emperor Haile Selassie's reign in a bloody coup. Some experts say 150,000 university students, intellectuals and politicians were killed in a nationwide purge by Mengistu's Marxist regime, but no one knows for sure.

Deposed in 1991 by rebels led by Meles Zenawi, now Ethiopia's prime minister, Mengistu sought shelter under Mugabe's regime in Zimbabwe, where his army had helped train guerrillas in their struggle for independence from Britain.

The U.S. and Canada brokered an asylum deal for him to help end the Ethiopian civil war as quickly as possible.

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