Andrew Simmons

In an Al Jazeera exclusive, Andrew Simmons talks to Meles Zenawi, the prime minister of Ethiopia, in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

Zenawi has been the prime minister of Africa's second most populated country since 1991 but he has most recently been in the headlines for his country's involvement in Somalia - which Zenawi insists was not an invasion - and the simmering tensions between Ethiopia and its neighbour Eritrea over a long-running border dispute.

'Invasion' of Somalia

Meles Zenawi
The interview begins with the controversial issue of whether Ethiopia invaded Somalia or was invited by the transitional Somali government and what role the US played in this.

Zenawi says: "I think we should get the facts straight first. We did not invade Somalia. We were invited by the duly constituted government of Somalia, internationally recognised government of Somalia to assist them in averting the threat of terrorism. We did so."

On the role of the US in Ethiopia's decision to enter Somalia, Zenawi says: "We did not fight a proxy war on behalf of the United States. Indeed, the United States was very ambivalent about our intervention, once we intervened of course the United States and much of the international community was supportive but in the initial phase before we intervened, everybody, including the United States was warning us that we might walk into a trap and a quagmire and that we should think twice before taking steps."

Relations with Eritrea

Zenawi says all Ethiopian troops
will leave Somalia soon [AFP]
The Ethiopian prime minister insisted he has accepted the ruling of a boundary commission after a border war between Ethiopia and Eritrea ended in 2000 but said that relations between the neighbours were deteriorating.

"I think the Eritrean government has come to the conclusion that they cannot live comfortably alongside a strong, united Ethiopia, under any government, and have come to the conclusion that they should try to weaken and perhaps dismantle Ethiopia to feel secure."

But Zenawi insisted he did not want another war between the two countries. "We have no intention of going to war with Eritrea again. We would not want to do so. Nevertheless that doesn't mean there's going to be peace. It could mean that the current status of stalemate and tension could persist for months and perhaps years.

Human rights record

An Ethiopian soldier in Somalia
Zenawi called the country's often poor human rights record "a work in progress" and added that he regretted the deaths that occurred during anti-government demonstrations in 2005.

"I regret the deaths. As you know, up to 194 civilians died, six policemen were killed, more than 70 policemen were wounded. I regret all these deaths but there was a challenge to the constitutional order in Ethiopia and that challenge had to be faced."

Asked how he would like to be remembered in history, he said: "I would like to be remembered as someone who got Ethiopia off to a good track, a democratic one. I'd like to be remembered as someone who started the process."

This episode of Talk to Jazeera aired from 22nd to 24th March 2007

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