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Cablegate: Ethiopia: Pm Meles Tour D'horizon On Tplf

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FM AMEMBASSY ADDIS ABABA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 2698
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RHMFISS/CDR USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY
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UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 ADDIS ABABA 002663

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

FOR AF A/S FRAZER AND DAS YAMAMOTO FROM CHARGE VICKI
HUDDLESTON

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM ECON EFIN MARR ET
SUBJECT: ETHIOPIA: PM MELES TOUR D'HORIZON ON TPLF
CONFERENCE DECISIONS


1. (SBU) Summary: In response to a request from major donors,
Prime Minister Meles met September 30 with the Ambassador's
Donor Group (ADG) to review internal and external
developments, as well as to review the decisions of the
Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF), the core decision
making body of the ruling EPRDF. Meles said that the major
areas of discussion were governance, capacity-building, and
democracy; economic development was an important sub-theme.
Present at the party conference for the first time were
representatives of the private sector and non-party members.
The most significant actions to be taken by government are as
follows:

-- Government will be accountable to civil society
organizations, who will be able to participate in local
government discussions and have improved access to the media.
-- Government will stay at a distance and create a positive
environment for the operation of the Human Rights Commission
and the Ombudsman.
-- The verdict in the trial of Hailu Shawel et al will likely
be handed down by 2007.
-- All of the opposition parties in Parliament will be
treated as full participants in Parliament and as full
partners.
-- Meles will meet with the leaders of the opposition parties
to restart the opposition party dialogue with the EPRDF.
This dialogue will not be limited and will address a proposed
media law that would reflect international standards as well
as reform and capacity-building in the National Electoral
Board (NEB).
-- Illegal activities will be punished and rule of law will
be strictly enforced with respect to the insurgencies and
those parties or groups that do not adhere to the
constitution.
-- An anti-terrorism law is in the works.
-- The Independent Commission of Inquiry report will be
forthcoming soon.
-- The cabinet will approve Ethiopia's submission of its
memorandum of trade practices to the WTO, the next step in
WTO accession.

2. (SBU) In my view, we can anticipate progress on reforms
that will provide more political space and improved access to
the media for the legal opposition, as well as more
consultations on the composition of the NEB and preparations
for the 2007 local elections. At the same time, those groups
and parties that act outside the law -- to include civil
disobedience -- can expect an even sharper government
reaction. This in part reflects government's preoccupation
with Eritrea's support for these groups. Overall, I would
call PM Meles' new policy "the iron fist in the velvet
glove." End Summary.

-------------------------------------
HOW THE GOVERNMENT WILL DEAL WITH
CIVIL SOCIETY ORGANIZATIONS AND NGOs
-------------------------------------

3. (SBU) Meles said that he anticipated that the trial of
"Hailu Shawel et al" would be completed by the beginning of
2007. The Prime Minister said that the Government bureaucracy
to some degree misunderstood civil society organizations, but
that this had been remedied at the TPLF conference. We could
anticipate a relationship between Government and Civil
Society to be based on mutual accountability. Civil Society
Organizations (CSO) will be accountable to their members and
the Government is accountable to Civil Society. Members of
CSOs should be able to influence their leadership and should
not be dependent on foreign sources for personnel or for
major resources. (Meles later explained that he did not have
any problem with foreign funding of CSO projects.) Meles
made clear that foreign NGOs are separate and apart from
local CSOs. Foreign-affiliated NGOs are "partners" of the
Government, but the Government is not accountable to them as
it is to indigenous CSOs. Meles said that he hoped that
CSOs would begin attending Kebele (local governing body)
meetings, where they could raise and discuss issues. This
would improve the exchange of information on the local level
and improve local governance. CSOs would have access to the
media as per recommendations in the USAID-funded media

ADDIS ABAB 00002663 002 OF 003


best-practices study. The CSOs should be registered with the
ministries which govern the area in which they work. The
Government's view of CSOs and Civil Society in general will
be reflected in the Governance matrix being prepared by the
Finance Ministry and the Donor Assistance Group (DAG). Meles
sees no major gulf between the ADG's vision of governance and
that of the Government. Overall, Meles said that NGOs had a
generally positive impact in Ethiopia and add to the
resources available for development and democracy.

----------------------
THE OPPOSITION PARTIES
----------------------

4. (SBU) Government intends to be more open to the legally
recognized opposition political parties, regardless of
whether they are acting in a strictly legal manner.
Government's engagement with these parties will be based on
the Constitution. The modification of Parliamentary
procedures at the urging of the opposition and the donors was
not "appeasement", but a principled decision based on
international practices. The rule of law will apply at all
times in order to remove conflict and fear. The EPRDF will
strengthen its dialogue with the Parliamentary opposition
parties on all issues, especially the drafting of the new
media law and the capacity building/reform within the
National Electoral Board. As CUDP has not yet been engaged
with the EPRDF on the issue of rule of law, it will have this
opportunity; UEDP-Medhin has already begun this dialogue.
While the EPRDF prefers to engage all the opposition together
they will respect their wishes to be engaged separately in
the dialogue.

5. (SBU) Meles said that he would meet soon with the leaders
of all the opposition parties to reinitiate the dialogue on
democratic reforms. However, he said that he is worried
about a dispute between UEDP-Medhin and CUDP over
representation in Parliament. He asked that the donors-- led
by the US Embassy -- who had worked out the agreement between
the four parties attempt to ensure that this agreement will
remain valid. ADG Chair promised to do so and asked about
the CUDP's claim that the EPRDF was attempting to force the
CUDP into a different or lesser status in Parliament. Meles
said that as far as the EPRDF is concerned the CUDP should
remain with the representation agreed upon in the
ADG-brokered agreement. He explained that all the opposition
parties - including the CUDP - had signed an agreement on
Parliamentary rules which stated that parties that were
formed after the elections would be considered as
Parliamentary Caucasus. (Comment: our reading of the rules is
that the agreement does not say this, but rather states that
"Parliamentary Groups" can either be parties or groups that
did not compete against each other in the election. In the
case of the later, both CUDP and Medhin would be Parliament
Groups. This issue will have to be sorted out over the next
week.) Meles stated that CUDP does not have seats in
Parliament as the "CUDP" because it did not exist when the
elections were held, therefore it is a caucus. He claimed
that this status still gives Temesgen Zewde, the CUDP Whip,
the same legal status in Parliament. "It does not in any way
diminish CUDP rights in Parliament. If they have 46 members
they will given the time and status accorded to 46," Meles
said. Meles also stated that there will be a discussion with
the opposition parties on a scheme for financing political
parties. COMMENT: UK and French Ambassadors commended the PM
for his positive approach to CSOs and the intent to renew and
strengthen the EPRDF dialogue with the opposition parties.
The USG and Canada commended the government for the pardon of
10,000 prisoners on Ethiopian New Year.

--------------------------------------------- ---
HUMAN RIGHTS ORGANIZATIONS/ INQUIRY COMMISSION/
AND TEACHERS ORGANIZATION
--------------------------------------------- ---

6. (SBU) In response to a questions on the GOE-funded Human
Rights Commission and Ombudsman, Meles confirmed that these
are institutions that hold the Executive accountable for its
actions, and as such are an important part of a system of
good governance. Government will stay at a distance and

ADDIS ABAB 00002663 003 OF 003


create an environment in which they can operate effectively.
In response to a question about why members of the Ethiopian
Teachers Association had been jailed, Meles said that this
was an example of applying the policy of sticking to the law.
The judicial system had found that the ETA was an illegal
organization. Some people had tried to defy this ruling and
were detained. While Meles understands that the ETA has many
friends abroad, this is simply an example of applying the
rule of law strictly. As for the Independent Commission that
has been investigating the violence of June and November
2005, he anticipated that the report would be forthcoming,
although it had been delayed.

-----------------------------------
ILLEGAL ACTIVITIES AND INSURGENCIES
-----------------------------------

7. (SBU) The Prime Minister stated, "Parties who are willing
to engage peacefully will be recognized, if not the
Government will try to reduce them. There will be no
dialogue with them until their statements and actions
indicate that they will work within the constitution."
(Comment: This undoubtedly applies to the five CUD jailed
leaders who have recently published a calendar of civil
disobedience and endorsed the Alliance of the CUD with the
ONLF and OLF As for the ONLF insurgency, Meles said that it
was a problem before the crisis in Somalia. Now it is more
so because it is easier for the ONLF to associate with the
activities of the AIAI in Somalia and the Ogaden. The
internal and external risks the Government faces are related
to one another. The Government will therefore sharpen its
response to these challenges by looking at institutions that
can help rid the country of these elements. The government
intends to table an anti-terrorism law in Parliament. Meles
said that the risks today are about the same as last year in
regards to threats from terrorism and instability (Comment:
Tensions and risks were fairly high this time last year.)

-----------------
THE ECONOMIC PLAN
-----------------

8. (SBU) Meles identified the major economic problem as
uneven growth. Rural farming areas are often in surplus,
while pastoral and urban areas are less so. Of particular
concern are urban youth that are not benefiting from or
participating in the economy. The Government will try to
re-balance the economy without slowing growth by linking
urban, rural and pastoralists sectors. It will focus on
pastoralists and on food-insecure areas. Growth corridors
will be linked with the slow growth areas. The Prime
Minister believes macro stability is impacted by a 20%
inflation rate in the urban economy that needs to be reduced.
It appears that incomes have not kept pace with the rise in
prices, he commented. Concerning economic governance, the
Government will combat corruption and improve efficiency
while expanding dialogue with the private sector. The PM
noted that private sector representatives were invited to the
TPLF conference for the first time. Government will continue
to try to attract foreign investment, especially in the areas
of natural resources and infrastructure. There are no
immediate plans to liberalized the financial sector, however,
as Government lacks the regulatory capacity. The Conference
agreed that Ethiopia will join the WTO as soon as possible.
HUDDLESTON

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