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Day One of the New Ethiopia


The first order of business in the new Ethiopia is to reopen the lifelines to centers of famine. Outside relief agencies saw their transport routes severed by the politics of revolution and by the fighting and collapse of government. In one of the grim ironies of modern East Africa, people in danger of starvation include camp-loads of refugees from Somalia and Sudan who had fled into Ethiopia. Reopening these lifelines should be the first thing that U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Herman J. Cohen requires of the country's putative new rulers in return for U.S. assistance.

Few triumphant rebel movements are as ill-equipped to govern a great country (more than 50 million people) as the Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), whose soldiers entered Addis Ababa yesterday. This is an umbrella group based on the Tigre Peoples Liberation Front, which grew out of a movement of a few intellectuals and peasants of Tigre in 1975 who felt betrayed by the 1974 revolution and sought autonomy. They were helped by the Eritrean Peoples Liberation Front (EPLF), which had been fighting for independence since before that former Italian colony lost its autonomy in 1962.

Both groups espoused the most extreme Marxism-Leninism available. The Eritreans are ahead in jettisoning it. After the proteges became the larger force, their cooperation continued as cessation of Soviet aid sealed the Marxist government's doom. But the groups are at cross purposes. The EPRDF is dedicated to a unitary Ethiopia and the EPLF to a sovereign Eritrea, which it now controls. A reasonable start would be the federation approved by the United Nations and begun in 1952.

An ethnically based group in the south, the Oromo Liberation Front, completes the coalition that is now charged with agreeing in London to a provisional regime for Ethiopia. Mr. Cohen was going to mediate between the rebels and government but on the appointed day the government no longer really existed and pretended to boycott. He is left to harmonize the coalition.

What the movements share is an ethnic resentment of domination by the Amhara of central Ethiopia, whether under the late Emperor Haile Selassie or the Marxist junta. So the second requirement of the winners should be safety for the Amhara and the metropolis of Addis Ababa. The third is that the allies of the EPLF and EPRDF not go to war against each other over Eritrea's status.

Lip service is given to democracy, which is well and good. But the initial needs are to insure that catastrophe and atrocity are ended, so that the victory of the rebels will be remembered as a happy and not tragic day in Ethiopia's long history.

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