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Ethiopia Begins Slow Return to Normalcy

June 8, 1991

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) _ Two weeks after sweeping into Addis Ababa, the former rebels who now rule Ethiopia are putting the old bureaucracy back to work and slowly establishing order in the capital and countryside.

One of the new interim government’s first acts was to order former ministers, vice ministers and other high-ranking officials to report for detention pending possible trials on corruption and other charges.

About 250 did. Others fled. Some went into hiding.

The officials of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front met with the third-level bureaucracy, the department heads of ministries, agencies and departments, and told them to carry on as usual.

″I was back at my desk two days later,″ said Teklu Tabor, who heads the Public Information Department of the Ministry of Information.

He said that on May 30, the day after the rebel takeover, the new rulers called on the radio ″for everryone below the rank of minister or vice minister to return to work.″ He returned May 31.

″I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future,″ Teklu added. ″If they want me to stay on, I will. If not, I’ll go.″

Most public utilities never ceased to function, although international communications were occasionally disrupted when employees left their posts in fear amid the rebels’ storming of the capital.

Electricity outages have been infrequent and brief, although the rebels controlled the hydroelectic dam that provide power to Addis Ababa and much of central and southern Ethiopia long before they took the capital.

″They were very careful not to destroy the country’s infrastructure,″ said a diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Restoring law and order was a more difficult task - one that hasn’t fully been accomplished in some parts of the countryside.

With his army disintegrating, former President Mengistu Haile Mariam resigned and fled the country May 21. He left behind a caretaker government headed by his vice president, Lt. Gen. Tefaye Gebre-Kidan.

Civil order already was breaking down in the capital. Deserting soldiers were trickling into the city and selling their weapons for food and transportation home.

When the dictator fled, the trickle of deserters became a flood. Anybody with $100 could buy an AK-47 assault rifle in the city’s central market. Handguns came cheaper, grenades cheaper still.

Robberies and looting increased, some of it by desserting and renegade policemen, some by gangs of unemployed youths who suddenly had at their disposal firepower beyond their dreams.

During the week the caretaker government was in office, the nights were filled with gunfire so heavy it sounded like warfare was on the streets.

After the rebels took over, they estimated that some 80,000 weapons had found their way into civilian hands in the capital. Some diplomats think that is a very conservative estimate.

Demonstrators filled the capital’s streets the day after the rebels marched in, mostly youths protesting the new government and what they saw as U.S. involvement in its takeover.

That evening, the interim government ordered a ban on all dmonstrations. The next morning, its troops quickly and harshly dispersed a few small groups of marchers testing the ban. That put an end to demonstrations.

Sporadic, sometimes heavy gunfired continued for several nights, gradually dying in intensity.

Then, almost exactly a week to the hour after the rebel takeover, an ammunition dump exploded in a mostly poor residential area only two miles from the city’s center.

Between 90 and 100 people died by Red Cross estimates. More than 350 were wounded or burned.

The govenment blamed it on sabotage by unidentified opponents, but diplomatic sources said the explosion probably was touched off accidentally when guards at the military depot exchanged shots with would-be looters.

Addis Ababa’s international airport, closed since May 27, repened for commercial flights Saturday. The United Nations and private agencies hope to begin airlifting food to famine victims in the more inaccessible parts of the country this week.

A dusk-to-dawn curfew remained in effect in Addis Ababa and the Eritrean People’s Revolutionary Front, which controls the northernmost province of Eritrea, on Friday announced at 10 p.m.-to-8 a.m curfew in Asmara, the provincial capital and Ethiopia’s second city.

Normal communications between Addis Ababa and Asmara have not yet been restored. The security situation in the northern city is unclear, although U.N. officials say its once drastic food shortage has been alleviated.

Order also appears to have been restored in the traditionally troubled Ogaden, the vast highland desert in sotheastern Ethiopia where bandit attacks on truck convoys and warehouses halted food and other aid shipments to an estimated 1 million drought-stricken residents and refugees last month.

″We haven’t had any reports of recent problems and we hope to be back in there very soon,″ said Marc Thomas, a spokesman for the U.N. Children’s Fund.

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