ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - The West is ignoring a jailed Ethiopian opposition leader to keep the Horn of Africa stable despite her being this week named on a United Nations list of arbitrary detainees, her party said on Friday.
Birtukan Mideksa, leader of the Unity for Democracy and Justice party (UDJ), was first jailed with other opposition leaders when the 2005 election turned violent.
She was pardoned in 2007 but was re-arrested last year accused of violating that pardon.
“This matter is being more or less hushed,” Seye Abraha, a senior UDJ official, told reporters in Addis Ababa.
“They talk of security and stability in the absence of democracy and respect for human rights. We are cursed by geography.”
Analysts say Ethiopia has been a key U.S. ally in its fight against terrorism.
A Human Rights Watch report last week also accused Western countries of being silent on Ethiopia to protect multi-million dollar aid programmes in the poor country and singled out the United States and Britain for criticism.
Britain rejected the claims and said it would “send a positive signal” if Birtukan was released ahead of the May 23 polling date.
Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has repeatedly ruled out releasing her before then.
“I think quite rightly the U.K. has substantial investments in development in Ethiopia,” Britain’s state minister for Africa, Glenys Kinnock, told Reuters on the sidelines of the African Union’s annual summit in Ethiopia.
“But I don’t think that precludes us from raising issues of concern when that opportunity arises. I can assure you they are raised on a regular basis.”
Kinnock said she had spoken to Meles on Thursday about Birtukan’s imprisonment and opposition claims of food aid being kept from their members. She did not say what his response was.
Seye warned that repression in Ethiopia could eventually destabilise the region.
“A country with a lot of internal problems, a country that is also in a region that is rampant with a lot of security problems, could take down the region (if) the political problems in this country are not corrected on time,” he said.
Birtukan had been seen by regional analysts as the country’s foremost opposition politician and critics of the government say she has been jailed because of the threat she could pose at this year’s parliamentary election.
The election will be the first since the disputed 2005 election that ended in bloodshed when about 200 opposition protesters were killed on the streets by police and soldiers. Seven policemen were also killed.
Meles said they were marching on state buildings to topple him.
Experts expect the Meles government to win in May and the opposition say that is because they are harassed and jailed. The government says the opposition are trying to discredit the poll because they have no chance of winning.