Post-Mengistu Ethiopia

THE flight of Ethiopia's monstrous ruler Mengistu Haile Mariam is some genuine good news in a week made tragic by the slaying of India's Rajiv Gandhi. Colonel Mengistu's policies, delaying or halting food aid to drought- and poverty-stricken Ethiopia, led directly and indirectly to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians, dating back to 1984. ``To kill the fish is to dry the sea,'' was one of this dictator's infamous sayings - that is, to deprive his people of food will starve the rebels fighting him. Someone should have forced Mengistu to walk through his own refugee camps.

That Mengistu is now out is in no small way owing to better US-Soviet relations, and a weakened Soviet imperial capacity. For two years, the noose of rebel fighters - the Eritreans (EPLF) and the Tigreans (TPLF) - had been tightening around Mengistu's neck. Soviet military and energy aid had been drying up. Yet it was only when the rebels came within 50 miles of capital, Addis Ababa, that he cut and ran to Zimbabwe.

Now the fighting in Ethiopia must stop. All sides need to drop weapons and meet in London Monday for already-scheduled peace talks. The rebels must show good faith. A cease-fire in Ethiopia is possible. To envelop Addis Ababa in bloody fighting isn't the answer. An interim government must be formed. The subject of elections must be raised. Ethnic factions - Oromo, Tigreans, Eritreans, and others - must find common ground. What kind of governance structure can be set up in post-Mengistu Ethiopia?

The important question is whether the TPLF and the EPLF can get along without a common enemy. TPLF may be tempted to consolidate its power with the old structure in Addis Ababa. Will they then support the Eritrean demand for independence? Is a partitioned Ethiopia workable? That must be hashed out. Otherwise there will be no cease-fire in Eritrea, and no real peace.

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