'Not me,' Ethiopian war crimes suspect tells Dutch court
A Dutch-Ethiopian accused of war crimes committed during Ethiopia's bloody purges in the late 1970s told a Dutch court Thursday that he apologised for atrocities by the regime but had no personal involvement in them.
"I would apologise on my knees to all these victims and through them to all of the people of Ethiopia," Eshetu Alemu told The Hague District Court.
"But I do not recognise the role that has been assigned to me personally," Alemu said after listening to testimony from victims who told of torture, murder and bodies dumped in a mass grave.
Alemu, a long-time Dutch resident, is alleged to have been a henchman for former Marxist dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam in northwestern Gojjam province during the time known as the "Red Terror".
A total of 321 victims have been named in four war crimes charges.
They include the "arbitrary detention and cruel and inhuman treatment of civilians and fighters who had laid down their arms," prosecutors said as the trial opened on Monday in a rare case before a Dutch court.
Earlier Thursday, one of Alemu's alleged victims testified how, as a 16-year-old prisoner, he saw a mass grave being dug inside a prison at the city of Debre Markos in Gojjam.
Alemu at the time "became the supreme leader" of the province as he was a founding member of Mengistu's Marxist-Leninist junta called the Derg, said Worku Damena Yifru.
Yifru told how prisoners had their hands tied behind their backs and were taken outside to a church on the prison grounds on August 15 1978.
He was later told that Alemu looked on as his soldiers strangled some 80 prisoners, before dumping their bodies in the mass grave.
"I am seeking justice for the crimes inflicted on me by Mr Alemu," said the 55-year-old Yifru, who today lives in Canada.
Human rights lawyer Goran Sluiter, reading some victims' statements, said "as far as my clients are concerned there is but one sentence: life in prison."
But in an emotional outburst, Alemu refuted any allegations directed at him personally.
"If I am guilty of being a member of Derg, then so be it.""But I was not there. I did not do it. I was not at that prison and I was not at that church. Never, never!" he said.
Prosecutors are expected to request a sentence for Alemu on Tuesday.