Cablegate: Environmental Allegations Generate Protests, Mass Arrests

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1. (SBU) Residents of Shakiso Wereda accuse Laga Dembi Mine, owned
by billionaire Sheikh Mohammed Al Amoudi, of releasing toxic
chemical waste into a nearby river, causing illness to people and
animals in the area. Local residents and students submitted a
petition to the local government arguing that a second gold mine
should not be given to MIDROC before it cleans the toxic waste that
it has released from Lega Dembi, and the company brings benefits to
the community. Local government officials, who were allegedly
instructed by federal authorities to halt an ongoing investigation
into the toxic dumping, resorted to mass arrests of the protesters.
According to Members of Parliament (MPs) from Guji and Borena Zones
of Oromiya region, over 100 people remain detained in Yabello prison
awaiting trial, and opposition political party members and
candidates were specifically targeted. According to Human Rights
groups and MPs, the whereabouts of three university students and two
political leaders is unknown. End Summary.

Local Residents Accuse MIDROC of Dumping
Toxic Chemicals at Mine
2. (U) Beginning in December 2009, residents of Shakiso Wereda
(Oromiya Region) accused Laga Dembi Mine of releasing toxic chemical
waste into a nearby river, causing illness to people and animals in
the area. (Note: According to Demboba Boku, Member of Parliament
for the area, several local experts found evidence of dangerously
high mercury levels in the water. However, Post has not reviewed
scientific or medical analysis examining the correlation between
chemicals from the mine and human and animal health. End note.) On
December 3, 2009 students from Shakiso town submitted a petition to
Wereda officials detailing the adverse effects of noxious chemicals
released by the gold mine on the health of the community. They
further protested that the mine owner harvested gold from their
land, but did not invest in the development of the community. Most
of the mine's employees are brought in from other regions, while
employment from the local community is minimal.

3. (SBU) Guji Zone and Shakiso Wereda administrators told the
students they would study the situation and respond on December 16.
According to parliamentarian Demboba (of the opposition Oromo
Federalist Democratic Movement (OFDM) party), officials of the
federal and regional governments pressured local officials to nip
the budding dissent. Students and residents who went to hear the
response from their local leaders on December 16 were surrounded by
federal and local police. Demboba said a student "planted" by local
officials stood up from the crowd and said, "We residents of Shakiso
Wereda are sick and tired of officials of the Oromo Peoples'
Democratic organization (OPDO). The current local officials should
hand over office to more capable groups that could bring development
to our Wereda." Immediately after the inflammatory statement by the
student, police reportedly started beating people gathered there and
arrested Assefa Arure, Guji Zone OFDM coordinator, and Dulecha Robe,
OFDM member. The whereabouts of the two are still not known.
According to Demboba, the arrests continued and on December 18, over
100 OFDM and Oromo Peoples' Congress members and sympathizers were

Background on Sheikh Al Amoudi's
Lega Dembi Gold Mine
4. (U) Lega Dembi Gold Mine is owned by Mohammed International
Development, Research Companies (MIDROC), a company owned by
billionaire Sheikh Mohammed Al Amoudi, believed to be the largest
foreign investor in Ethiopia. It is the only active industrial gold
mine in Ethiopia. On November 24, 2009 MIDROC signed a 10-year
agreement with the Ministry of Mines and Energy for the extraction
of 20,483 kg. of gold from the Sakaro area, three kilometers from
the existing Lega Dembi gold belt in the Guji Zone of the Oromiya
Regional State. Gold is Ethiopia's major mineral, and the
government is counting on a six-fold increase in production. MIDROC
has reportedly earned USD 466 million from Lega Dembi mine since
1998. The granting of Sakaro Gold Mines to MIDROC in the midst of
allegations of pollution and lack of community involvement at Laga
Dembi angered residents of Shakiso Wereda.

5. (U) The office of the Chief Executive of MIDROC on its website
advertizes its contribution to the development of the Lega Dembi
Community by financing the Shakiso Clean Water Project, but
residents of Shakiso disagree. Demboba Boku told PE FSN that the
multi-million dollar company did not invest in the community.

Police Allegedly Refused to Respect

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Bail Order from Court
6. (SBU) Demboba Boku told Poloff and P/E FSN that only eight of the
over one hundred detainees appeared at Shakiso Wereda Court on Dec.
18. Police requested 14 days of investigation time, which the court
granted. The eight detainees appeared in court for the second time
on January 1. The police asked for a second 14-day extension to
further investigate the case. The Court did not grant the
extension. Instead, the court decided to release all eight
detainees on bail. According to Demboba, police defied the court
order and continued to keep the eight individuals in detention.
Demboba added that the court had not taken any measures against the
police who defied the court's orders. In an interview with the
international press, Government of Ethiopia (GoE) spokesman Shimelis
Kemal dismissed the allegations that students and residents of
Shakiso were unjustly detained. Shimelis said the disturbances were
fomented by rebels from the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), and the
innocence or guilt of the detainees would be decided by a court of

Over 100 Protestors Remain in Detention

7. (SBU) Dembela Halekie, Member of Parliament from OPC representing
Hageremariam Wereda, Borena Zone of Oromiya Region told PE FSN the
eight defendants whose right to bail was rejected by police and over
100 other detainees are currently jailed in Yabello Prison, Borena
Zone. According to Dembela, all detainees will appear before a
roving Supreme Court and will answer to charges of fomenting an
uprising to disrupt peace and stability. Dembela did not know the
trial date.

8. (SBU) According to Demboba, eight OFDM candidates for the Federal
Parliament and four candidates for the Regional Council are among
the 100 detained by police. OFDM reported the case to the National
Electoral Board of Ethiopia, but received no response. OFDM was
forced to register new candidates in place of those of those

The Whereabouts of Three Students and
Two Party Leaders is Unknown
9. (SBU) On January 8, Human Rights League for the Horn of Africa
(HRLHA) reported that three students from Awassa University were
arrested by the Federal Police on January 5 and January 6 in
connection with the riot in Shakiso Wereda, Guji Zone of Oromiya
Region. The three Awassa University students who are natives of
Shakiso are: Nega Gezaw, Dhaba Gire and Jatani Wario. Demboba told
Poloff and PE FSN that the three students were not physically
present in Shakiso during the riot, but police picked them up from
Awassa town for alleged involvement in the riot. According to HRLHA
and Demboba, the whereabouts of the three students is unknown.
Similarly, the whereabouts of Assefa Arure and Dulecha Robe, both
members OFDM are still unknown.

Residents Not Impressed by Officials
and Mine Owner Visit
10. (U) According to Demboba, Sheikh Mohammed Al Amoudi, owner of
MIDROC, Alemayehu Tegenu, Minister of Mines and Energy, and Aba Dula
Gemeda, President of Oromiya Region visited Shakiso on January 20 to
appease the community. Sheikh Al Amoudi granted 15 million Birr
(USD 1,125,000) for the 15 Weredas in Guji Zone to be used for
community development. According to Demboba, handpicked residents
attended the meeting and thanked the visitors for the attention they
gave to their community. Demboba said the majority of residents --
who did not attend the meeting -- were unimpressed by the visit and
donation, and characterized it as "too little, too late." According
to Demboba, the community continues to demand the immediate release
of their loved ones and the cleanup of toxic waste generated by Lega
Dembi Gold Mine before MIDROC is granted rights to Sakaro Gold Mine.

11. (SBU) Genuine grass-roots opposition to hazardous pollution on
the part of Ethiopia's largest investor appears to have fomented in
Shakiso Wereda. Local authorities' willingness to launch an
investigation into Lega Dembi's environmental practices has clearly
evaporated, and MP Demboba's allegation that they have been ordered
by federal officials to "make the problem go away" is entirely
believable. While Demboba's allegation that the arrest of
protestors was a form of political party harassment is congruent

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with broader trends Post has observed, Demboba provided little
evidence of his claims. Neither Demboba nor other community leaders
appear to have developed a strategy for highlighting this issue.
With community members rightfully frightened by the mass arrests of
peaceful demonstrators, this case will only attract further
attention if Demboba or other high-ranking officials make it their
own. End comment.


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