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Emigre Sued by Fellow Ethiopian Claiming Police Torture

October 11, 1990 GMT

ATLANTA (AP) _ Kelbessa Negewo said he was just a ″simple man″ trying to raise his children, pursue a hotel management degree and forget being tortured in an Ethiopian prison when the past came back to haunt him.

Another expatriate is suing him for $25 million, alleging he was the police official who tortured her in interrogation in December 1978 and January 1979 during the ″Red Terror,″ a period of government intimidation in Ethiopia.

The suit claims that during one eight-hour interrogation in January 1979, Negewo and several others tied up Hirute Abebe-Jira and whipped her with wire.

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″A stocking soaked with blood and vomit was stuffed in her mouth,″ the suit said. ″She was told she would be killed )f she did not reveal the location of a certain gun, about which she knew nothing.

″He (Negewo) directed his subordinates who participated in the interrogation and torture and he personally interrogated and tortured Abebe- Jira.″

Negewo, who now works in an Atlanta hotel, denies having anything to do with that.

″She doesn’t know me, I don’t know her,″ he said in halting English. ″I was a civil servant all my life. I was never in the police.″

Although Negewo refuses to answer many questions about his past, he said he can prove that he spent the months mentioned in the lawsuit attending school in Europe and in prison. He says he also was tortured by agents of Soviet- backed President Mengistu Haile Mariam in the period of government violence known as the Red Terror.

The lawsuit alleges that Negewo was chairman of the Higher Zone 9, a police jurisdiction in the capital Addis Ababa.

Ethiopian diplomatic sources said a Kelbessa Negewo was chairman of Higher Zone 9 during the Red Terror. The sources could not, however, say whether that man was in Addis Ababa at the time Ms. Abebe-Jira said she was imprisoned and tortured.

Ms. Abebe-Jira has declined to be interviewed, according to her attorneys, but her lawsuit said she was imprisoned when she was an 18-year-old clerk- accountant for a business.

Ms. Abebe-Jira, now living in Gloucester, Ontario, filed the lawsuit under the Alien Tort Claims Act, which allows aliens to seek relief for human rights violations in other countries.

She said she learned of Negewo’s whereabouts in May after a friend spotted him working at the Colony Square Hotel in Atlanta.

Last week, Negewo filed a petition pleading indigency and asking for a court-appointed attorney. The suit is pending until a judge decides the petition, said Laurel Lucey, one of the attorneys handling the case for the Center for Constitutional Rights.

An attorney is not required for civil cases. Negewo said he also has applied for help from the American Civil Liberties Union in case his petition is denied.

Negewo said he left Ethiopia for Bulgaria on June 2, 1978, to attend a political institution called the Party School.

He returned to Ethiopia on March 9, 1979, ″and when I reached the international airport at Addis Ababa they took me to jail directly,″ Negewo said.

″They said I was talking to Russians in Bulgaria,″ he said. ″They hit my legs, my soles, and I was in a dark house, dark jail for two months.″

Negewo wouldn’t say why he was imprisoned by the Soviet-backed government for talking to Russians.

Negewo said he was imprisoned until 1983. He said he then worked for several months for an organization called Irish Aid to Ethiopia and then for a cement company.

In August 1987, he came to Atlanta and attended classes for one semester at Morris Brown College. He said he then transferred his records to Georgia State University, and plans to start classes there when he earns enough money. He is supporting his three children, ages 15, 13 and 11.

Negewo won’t discuss his social or family life, except to say he is not married.

Negewo said he has tried to bury thoughts of the past and never thought the Red Terror would haunt him again.

″I’m just a simple man all my life,″ he said. ″I don’t have any money. I can’t feed my children. I applied for a lawyer. What can I do then? I don’t have any position.″