“An hour long meeting resulted in the Prime Minister [of Ethiopia] stating clearly that there would be a pardon, but that they’d be freed at a point in time when it could be seen as a part of the bigger picture,” wrote Bildt in his blog called “Alla dessa dagar”.
For the first time since the two reporters were jailed for crossing the border from Somalia illegally, Bildt feels able to give his version of events. Both Bildt and the government has been criticised for their silence on the subject up until now.
The meeting with the then Ethiopian premier Meles Zenawi took place in Addis Ababa in May this year, when Bildt was visiting the country for other reasons undisclosed.
The minister had met a few times with Zenawi by then, the most recent meeting taking place in a London hotel together with Fredrik Reinfeldt, who also knew Zenawi from a close cooperation on climate issues in Copenhagen.
“The time mentioned was the first days of September. I, of course, tried to make it earlier, but the prime minister was fairly adamant that a release could not happen earlier,” Bildt wrote.
According to Bildt, he then went to the prison, met with Schibbye and Persson and told them the news of their planned release.
However, when Bildt received the news that Prime Minister Zenawi had unexpectedly died in August, he travelled down to Addis Ababa to attend the formal funeral.
“One couldn’t ignore the risk that their release would be delayed,” Bildt wrote.
“I was then able to have a short conversation with the acting Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, who quite obviously valued my presence there.”
However, it wasn’t until Saturday September 8th that Bildt was told by ambassador Jens Odlander that the embassy had received official word that the government would stand by the agreement reached.
“After ambassador Odlander’s call, Fredrik Reinfeldt on Sunday spoke to Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, who confirmed that they would be released within the next few days,” Bildt wrote.
Bildt also wrote that a successively established cooperation with Ethiopia was crucial in the pardoning process and that Sweden has been helped both by the support of other nations, the diligent work conducted by the foreign ministry staff and the embassy staff in Addis Ababa, as well as the staunch faith and understanding of the two jailed journalists’ families,
Schibbye and Persson were freed on Monday and have left Ethiopia to recuperate at an undisclosed location before they return to Sweden.
They were arrested last year with rebels from the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) after illegally entering Ethiopia from Somalia.
The Swedes were in the remote southeastern region of Ogaden, populated mainly by ethnic Somalis, to investigate the activities of a company affiliated with the Swedish oil firm Lundin Petroleum.
Bildt was a board member of Lundin from 2000 until 2006, when he was appointed foreign minister.
Schibbye and Persson were probing reports of human rights abuses committed by the Ethiopian military to protect the foreign oil operations – including Lundin’s — in their war against the ONLF rebels.