US Congress pushes Ethiopia on rights

A group of House members has proposed legislation to apply trade sanctions against Soviet-backed Ethiopia until it improves its human rights record. The proposed bill comes on the heels of a call from Ethiopia to the international community for emergency food aid to fend off impending famine. The bill would cut off imports of Ethiopian coffee, bar future loans and credits to Ethiopia, and revoke the country's ``most favorable nation'' trading status until the government of Lt. Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam initiates changes.

``In reviewing human rights conditions in Ethiopia, ... it is clear that a pattern of abuses exist which is appalling,'' said Rep. Gus Yatron (D) of Pennsylvania, chairman of a human rights subcommittee, at a hearing Tuesday. ``[Abuses include] political imprisonment and killings, forced confessions, disappearances, arbitrary arrest, and detention without charge.''

The proposed bill, which has 60 co-sponsors, was drafted by Representatives William Gray III, (D) of Pennsylvania and Toby Roth, (R) of Wisconsin. Bill supporters want the release of political prisoners, fair elections, and freedom of movement of all people.

Richard Schifter, a US assistant secretary of state for human rights, said the government's agricultural policies have ``seriously aggravated'' the effects of a drought which has caused widespread crop failures.

Earlier this month, Ethiopia informed government and private officials of an impending famine, similiar to the one in 1984-1985, that could affect 5 million people. The US Embassy in Ethiopia has requested an emergency shipment of 115,000 million tons of food.

While drought has played a role in hurting Ethiopia's agriculture production, experts say its food shortages are also prompted by poor growing techniques, state control of the agriculture sector, and civil strife. Roth said the bill's supporters want changes in Ethiopia so ``we don't have this recurring holocaust.''

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