Swedish journalists deny backing rebel group

Two Swedish journalists charged with terrorism in Ethiopia rejected witness claims Tuesday that they had supported a rebel group, as the prosecution opened its case against them.

Swedish journalists deny backing rebel group

Police inspector Mohamed Ahmed told the court that the accused, photographer Johan Persson and reporter Martin Schibbye, told him they came to Ethiopia to support the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) rebels.

“They told us that they came to organize and train the ONLF,” Mohamed told the court in the Ethiopian capital through a translator.

When asked if this was true, Schibbye shook his head and told reporters “no.”

The Swedes were charged last month with engaging in terrorist activities, aiding and abetting a terrorist group, and entering the country illegally.

Last month, both Persson and Schibbye pleaded not guilty to the charges of terrorism, though they admitted entering the country illegally.

Mohamed also described the arrest of the Swedish journalists, who were detained after entering the country from Somalia on July 1.

He said the Swedes’ car was spotted in the middle of the night some 90 kilometres from the Somali border.

Police claim to have tracked the pair — who were travelling with 13 gunmen accused of being rebel soldiers — for 11 hours when fighting broke out.

“The two foreigners were guarded by ONLF members and the foreigners were shot by their own guards,” Mohamed said.

He added that the Swedish journalists were not armed, but were instead found carrying two cameras, mobile phones, and passports.

When caught by police, Persson wore just one shoe and his shirt was “soaked in blood,” according to the witness.

The ONLF, formed in 1984, has been fighting for the independence of the remote southeastern Ogaden, populated mainly by ethnic Somalis, which the rebels say has been marginalized by Addis Ababa.

The Swedes are charged with two Somalis of Ethiopian ethnicity, accused of being ONLF members, who have also pleaded not guilty.

The trial is expected to last six months, according to legal sources.

Rights groups have criticised the process after Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said in an interview last month that the Swedes were “at the very least messenger boys of a terrorist organisation.”

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Fashion retailer H&M plans Ethiopia expansion

Swedish fashion retailer Hennes and Mauritz (H&M) said Friday it would expand its network of suppliers to Ethiopia, after concentrating 80 percent of its production in Asian countries.

Fashion retailer H&M plans Ethiopia expansion

“We are an expansive company and are constantly looking at new potential purchasing markets to guarantee that we have capacity to deliver products to all stores in our expansive markets,” H&M spokeswoman Camilla Emilsson-Falk told AFP.

“We do that by increasing the productivity on the existing production markets as well as looking at new markets,” she added.

Test orders have been placed with Ethiopian suppliers and new factories will be built this autumn, but it is too early to say how many suppliers will be used and when the factories will be ready for production, according to Emilsson-Falk.

The East African country has had a long history in textile, leather and shoe production since its Italian occupation in 1939. Other apparel retailers have already begun sourcing products in the country, including Tesco and Chinese shoe-manufacturer Huajian, providing footwear to Guess and Tommy Hilfiger.

“Ethiopia is a country with strong development and we trust that we can sustain economic growth and job opportunities there,” said Emilsson-Falk.

Despite strong economic growth, 9.9 percent on yearly average since 2004 according to the World Bank, the sub-Saharan nation remains one of the world’s

poorest. And one year after the death of prime minister Meles Zenawi, the country is still criticised for its lack of human rights by watchdog organisations.

“We did an extensive risk analysis for Ethiopia, looking at human rights and environmental issues in the country,” said Emilsson-Falk.

“We have worked with improvement of working conditions in our production countries for many years and will apply our experience when establishing relationships with the Ethiopian suppliers.”

H&M, which has stores in Egypt and Morocco, has no concrete plans for further expansion in Africa.

Two Swedish journalists who were kept in jail for 14 months in the country were released in September 2012.

TT/AFP/The Local/pvs

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