By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
July 16, 2011(ADDIS ABABA) - Newly independent South Sudan on Saturday dismissed reports that it has built a new residence for the exiled former Ethiopian president, Mengistu Hailemariam.
The Ethiopian Reporter – a Amharic biweekly newspaper - this week reported that South Sudan has finished building a home for Ethiopia’s former leader and he will be moving to South Sudan as guest of honor.
Mengistu’s regime supported South Sudan’s rebels and now ruling party the SPLM during the civil war until he was deposed by a rebel insurgency in his country. After 21 years of conflict South Sudan became independent on July 9 after a referendum agreed as part of a 2005 peace deal.
According to the newspaper, which an anonymous official in South Sudan new home has been granted in recognition to Mengistu’s support to South Sudanese during their struggle for freedom and Justice.
However the government of South Sudan’s (GOSS) Liaison office in Addis Ababa said it was outraged by the "unfounded" reports.
"This is a big lie. I was shocked when translation of the Amharic report was read out to me. It is a baseless allegation against our government," David Dang Kong, deputy head of mission in South Sudan’s mission to its East African neighbour told Sudan Tribune.
"Our government has no communication with Mengistu. We haven’t built a house for Mengistu and will never build [one]. The news on the Ethiopian Reporter was a complete fabrication" he added.
South Sudan’s office in Ethiopia has protested to Ethiopia Ministry of Foreign affairs over the report.
"I went to the ministry of foreign affairs yesterday I met the minister and I protest against the Ethiopian reporter," Kong said adding, "I have asked for a legal action against the newspaper."
Mengistu was thrown out of power by Ethiopia’s now prime minister Meles Zenawi, who has since crafted a more neutral position between North and South Sudan. This was demonstrated recently by the involvement of Addis Ababa in the talks over the disputed territory of Abeyi and the deployment of over 4,000 Ethiopian troops to the oil region.
South Sudan’s office in Ethiopia - which will in due course become an embassy- has asked the ministry of foreign affairs to correct the information in the media.
On behalf of the Ethiopian people and regional group IGAD, Prime minister, Meles Zenawi, was there among first to announce recognition to the new state. Delivering a speech before tens of thousands gathered for independence celebration in Juba’s freedom square, he pledged continued support to South Sudan.
Kong went on to saying that the newspaper’s claims were an attempt to disrupt cordial relations between Ethiopian and South Sudan.
Former dictator, Mengistu ruled Ethiopia in iron fist from 1974 to 1991 until the junta was overthrown in 1991 by forces of the current ruling party, Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).
Mengistu is known to have provided assistance to the South Sudanese leaders during their long struggle. The founder of Sudan Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA) Dr John Garang used to have a villa where he lived in Ethiopia.
Since he fled in 1991, the former Ethiopian leader has been living in Zimbabwe, under the protection of President Robert Mugabe. He has been convicted of genocide in absentia and was sentenced to death.
On May 28, 2011, the day Ethiopia ruling EPRDF party marked the 20th anniversary of the downfall of a 17-year rule of the former Marxist-Leninist regime, the Ethiopian government withdrew death sentences for over 23 senior officials from the Derg military regime, commuting it to life imprisonment.
However the decision didn’t include to the former Ethiopian president.