‘I knew in spring they’d be released’: Bildt

Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt revealed in his personal blog on Tuesday that he knew as early as May that the two Swedish reporters jailed in Ethiopia would be released.

'I knew in spring they’d be released': Bildt

“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.

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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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