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Jailed Swedes on the way to Ethiopian capital

The two Swedish journalists jailed in Ethiopia are headed for the capital Addis Ababa, according to recent reports from Sweden's Foreign Ministry.

The Swedish embassy has demanded to see the Swedes when they arrive to the city, which should happen Thursday evening.

Foreign minister Carl Bildt believes the first visit from the ambassador may have saved the Swedes’ lives.

“I think it’s thanks to the Swedish ambassador’s quick intervention that they’re still alive. The others in the group aren’t,” he said, referring to rebels from ONLF.

Bildt does not want to reveal what he or the Foreign Ministry are doing for the Swedes, as the situation is highly sensitive.

Every year Sweden gives large sums of financial aid to Ethiopia. This, however, is not likely to be used as leverage in order to get the arrested and injured Swedish journalists released.

Sweden has a “long history and strong commitment with the Ethiopian people,” said development aid minister Gunilla Carlsson to the TT news agency.

She was unwilling to speculate about whether Swedish aid would be of any significance in contact with Ethiopian authorities.

“I don’t think one can bargain with aid,” she said.

“Now we’re hoping that this will really get a good solution. We’re doing everything we can on location.”

Swedish aid to Ethiopia was roughly 280 million kronor ($44 million) in 2010, according to international development agency SIDA. In the past couple of years, this aid has chiefly gone in directions other than governmental.

The development agency writes on their web page that “the cooperation with Ethiopia has many aspects. Flexible humanitarian efforts are combined with long-term strategies in the fight against poverty. Now we’re focusing our efforts on democratic and economic development as well as education and health.”

SIDA notes that the political climate in Ethiopia has had an effect on their work in the country.

“The government’s lack of respect for democratic principles has led to the financial support being stopped.”

The Swedish journalists Martin Schibbye and Johan Persson were arrested and injured in the closed border area Ogaden, on July 1st, when caught in a battle between Ethiopian government forces and the ONLF guerilla.

The journalists entered Ethiopia illegally together with the rebels, who are classed as terrorists by the regime. Following their arrest, the pair were taken to an arrest in the city Jijiga, where they were permitted to meet briefly with Swedish ambassador Jens Odlander.

Events after this are unclear. Both the Swedish Foreign Ministry and several media outlets have been given incorrect, unclear, conflicting or nonexistent information about the Swedes’ whereabouts, how long they can be held, or what they are accused of.

Since their arrest, Sweden has refrained from open criticism of Ethiopia. Considering the sensitive situation, critical comments are obviously considered to risk causing more damage than good.

On Thursday, however, the Foreign Ministry published their first report in three years on the human rights situation in 188 countries. The chapter on Ethiopia does not make for pretty reading.

“Over the past four years a deterioration of respect for human rights has occurred,” states the report.

Several journalist organisations are now joining the protests against the Swedes’ situation. The Swedish Union of Journalists (Svenska journalistförbundet – SJF) and Swedish Union of Photographers (Svenska Fotografers Förbund) are demanding their release.

“They were arrested while carrying out journalistic work, and ought therefore never to have been arrested or captured at all,” commented Jonas Nordling, SJF’s chairman, in a statement.

The International Federation of Journalists condemn the arrests “in the strongest possible terms” and demand that the Swedes be given access to healthcare.

The United States-based international journalist organisation CPJ, and Reporters without Borders (Reportrar utan gränser) have previously made similar demands.

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GUNILLA CARLSSON

Former minister’s salary paid with aid money

Former minister Gunilla Carlsson, who resigned last week, had her monthly salary of 121,000 kronor ($19,000) paid for the last four years with money which was supposed to be spent on aid.

Former minister's salary paid with aid money

Carlsson, who was Minister for International Development Cooperation, stepped down a week ago as part of the cabinet reshuffle.

The decision to pay her salary with aid money was made by the ministry for foreign affairs (Utrikesdepartement) in 2009 after the department had its funding cut. It was then that the proposal was made to pay political salaries and expenses with money originally set aside for aid.

The move not only paid Carlsson’s salary, but also contributed to the salaries of her top civil servants to a total of 20 million kronor over the four-year period.

Foreign minister Carl Bildt said there was nothing strange about the move as it involves a range of expenses that does not count against the aid budget.

“It’s completely normal and has been for a number of years. This also happens in other countries albeit in slightly different ways,” said Bildt.

This is the first time a minister’s salary has been paid with aid money, Sveriges Radio (SR) reported. Carlsson and her staff received between five and six million kronor a year with her state secretary earning 91,800 kronor a month.

“I think it is a bit stingy,” Kenneth G Forslund, aid policy spokesperson for the Social Democrats, told SR.

“The aid budget is there to help the poor and oppressed,” he added.

It’s understood that the other aid spokespersons in the government alliance were unaware that Carlsson’s salary came out of the aid budget. Since January their salaries were no longer paid with aid money.

Carlsson has not revealed her next move since leaving government but said last week that she “truly had fun every day” during her stint as minister.

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