Bush Sending Boschwitz to Ethiopia to Try to Speed Jewish Emigration

The United States is sending former Sen. Rudy Boschwitz (R-Minn.) to Ethiopia to discuss the plight of Ethiopian Jews and possible solutions to the country’s quarter-century-old civil war.

White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater announced Wednesday that President Bush is sending Boschwitz as his “personal emissary” to meet with Ethiopian President Mengistu Haile Mariam.

The announcement came one day after Mengistu declared his willingness to negotiate with rebel leaders over the country’s future. Rebel forces are said to be in control of about half of Ethiopia, including Ambo, the site of a major munitions plant 75 miles from Addis Ababa, the capital.

The flow of Ethiopian Jews to Israel has been hovering at between 500 and 1,000 a month since January, with a two-week interruption in March.

While that is the highest sustained level ever, Jewish groups say it would take another two years to get all of the Jews out of Ethiopia. The American Association of Ethiopian Jews estimates that there are 18,000 Jews left in the country.

“Our concern is that this rate is too slow,” Fitzwater said Wednesday. “Sen. Boschwitz will ask them to increase this rate, on humanitarian grounds.”

But the United States, Israel and Jewish groups here are also concerned about what might happen to the flow should the rebel forces successfully overthrow the Mengistu government.

The rebels have accused Israel of supplying cluster bombs and other weaponry to the Ethiopian government in recent years.

‘GET ‘EM OUT WHILE WE CAN’

A well-informed Jewish activist here said the U.S. thinking may be that there is “greater urgency” now to secure the swift emigration of Ethiopian Jews, since it is “clear that the rebels have made significant incursions.”

The activist said that with the longevity of the Mengistu regime unclear and in the face of uncertainty over the rebels’ stance toward Ethiopian Jewish emigration, the U.S. goal appears to be to “get ‘em out while we can.”

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations welcomed the Boschwitz mission.

“We support this humanitarian effort, which is consistent with President Bush’s longtime concern for Ethiopian Jews and the resolution of conflicts in that country,” Shoshana Cardin, the umbrella group’s chairman, said in a statement.

Boschwitz, accompanied by three administration officials, was scheduled to arrive in Addis Ababa on Friday. The delegation plans to “raise the emigration of Ethiopian Jews” and is “also interested in discussing any U.S. effort or helpfulness in resolving the internal conflict there,” Fitzwater said.

Accompanying Boschwitz will be Irvin Hicks, deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs; Robert Frasure, director of African affairs on the National Security Council; and John Hall, the State Department’s Ethiopian desk officer.

In a statement, Boschwitz said the purpose of the trip is to “avert widespread loss of life and bloodshed.” He said that “things may well be reaching a crisis level” in Ethiopia.

Boschwitz cited his experience with hunger and peace issues while having served on the Senate Agriculture and Foreign Relations committees.

The Minnesota Republican, who was the lone Senate incumbent defeated in last November’s elections, is currently chairman of a lumber company he founded and is also president of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.

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