Ethiopian rebels press on, ignore cease-fire calls

May 23, 1991|By Los Angeles Times

NAIROBI, Kenya -- Ethiopian rebels ignored international appeals for a cease-fire in their civil war and moved yesterday to within 40 miles of the capital, Addis Ababa, one day after they forced the country's dictator to end his 14-year rule and flee to Zimbabwe.

"It was our pressure that brought Mengistu Haile Mariam to the position of leaving the country, and we will continue the pressure," said Asefa Mamo, a spokesman in London for the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, one of the two major insurgent groups operating in the country.

But Mr. Mamo said that the EPRDF still would attend peace talks scheduled for Monday in London under U.S. sponsorship.

Forces of the EPRDF, a coalition of six ethnic and regionally based rebel organizations, moved yesterday past the town of Addis Alem, 40 miles west of Addis Ababa on a paved road with few obstacles to slow an advance on the capital.

The rebels "are an immediate threat just if they keep walking," saidone observer in Addis Ababa.

The group claimed that battles in and around Addis Alem over the last two days had left more than 5,000 government troops dead and that about 1,500 officers had been captured. The claims were unconfirmed.

Western diplomats and others in Addis Ababa, reached by telephone from Nairobi, said that people in the capital were outwardly calm but that "the percentage of nervous strain is just going up," in the words of one.

The government, now under the leadership of former Defense Minister Lt. Gen. Tesfaye Gabre Kidan, who was named acting head of state upon Mr. Mengistu's departure, broadened a citywide curfew to 9 p.m. to 5 a.m., and there were reports of increased armored activity around Addis Ababa.

Western governments warned yesterday that the continued rebel advance could provoke unnecessary bloodshed.

"A lot of people are going to die needlessly, because the war is essentially over," said a Western diplomatic source. "The politics in Ethiopia now are oriented toward what the insurgents want."

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