Ethiopian Regime Looks West For Helping Hand

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Patt Haring

May 16, 1989, 1:07:47 PM5/16/89
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*Ethiopian Regime Looks West for Helping Hand

ON the ropes militarily, economically, and diplomatically, the Marxist
regime in Ethiopia is reaching out to the West.

President Mengistu Haile Mariam's government ''is on the run like never
before and seems to be on an irreversible downward slide,'' says Paul
Henze, a specialist on the Horn of Africa at the Rand Corporation, a Santa
Monica, Calif.-based think tank.

But as Mr. Mengistu tries to rally support, there is debate in
Washington over whether the US should be forthcoming toward a government
that has one of the world's worst human rights records, and which is not
yet repentant, say US officials, congressional aides and private

Ethiopia-watchers here agree the regime is weakened, though they
disagree on the chances of it crumbling soon. Some, such as Michael Johns
of the Heritage Foundation, think it could crack in the months ahead.
Others say it still has ''plenty of capability to do harm,'' as one
government analyst puts it.

All agree the Mengistu government has recently suffered stunning
military defeats at the hands of Marxist rebel movements in Tigre and
Eritrea Provinces. ''The Army isn't fighting and the people are tired of
war,'' says a specialist recently returned from the region. ''They've
suffered too much.''

Ethiopia's Soviet patrons are pushing the government toward economic
and political reform, but are meeting resistance from a regime still
touting a Stalinist approach. Moscow is also hinting that new military aid
may not be as forthcoming after the current agreement runs out next year.
But US specialists within and without the US government disagree on how
far Moscow is willing to push its ally.

''The Soviets have tolerated and endorsed every excess'' by giving
Mengistu more than $11 billion of military aid since 1977, Rand's Mr.
Henze says. ''Now they recognize that they have reached a dead-end, and
they are trying to pressure a very stubborn regime to make concessions.''
But there is no clear evidence of a reduced arms flow, nor any sign that
Moscow willsever its deep
ties with the regime, he says.

Ethiopia is seeking to diversify its military supply relationships
through overtures to North Korea, Israel and others, according to US
officials and congressional aides.

President Mengistu has also made a number of overtures to the US and
other potential Western donors and investors. But US officials say the
others, without the US, are reluctant to get too involved in what is
probably the world's poorest country. So Mengistu has been forced to turn
on the charm.

In February, the Ethiopian government asked the US to allow it to send
an ambassador to its embassy here after nine years of lower-level
representation. President Mengistu has also wined and dined recent US
visitors with the message of wanting better relations. Former President
Jimmy Carter was his most recent guest late last month.

The Bush administration has not yet decided how to respond and is in no
hurry to do so, US officials say. ''The US is not particularly eager to
normalize relations (because) we don't think this particular leopard can
change his spots,'' a high ranking administration official says.

He and others say the Mengistu regime must stop ''brutalizing'' its
people, end the forced movement of peasants, reform its Stalinist economic
and agricultural policies, and show an interest in finding a negotiated
end to the Tigre and Eritrea rebellions before US-Ethiopian relations can
bloom. In the interim, they say, the US is quite happy to have frank talks
with the Ethiopians about needed changes.

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