Ethiopian student dies in UN protest

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ADDIS ABABA (Reuter, AP) - At least one person was killed as about 1,000 Ethiopian students clashed with security forces yesterday during a protest march calling on the United Nations Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, not to send observers to a referendum on independence in Eritrea.

Witnesses said they believed seven people were killed, but only one body had so far been seen at a city hospital. At least 30 students were injured, 10 of them seriously, some with gunshot wounds, hospital sources said.

The students, who oppose the secession of Eritrea, were going to deliver a petition to Mr Boutros- Ghali at the conference centre where he is attending informal peace talks between Somali factions. One student, in hospital, said pro-government students at Addis Ababa university were armed, and helped security forces to attack the protesters. Government sources said the students did not have a permit to demonstrate, so their march was illegal.

Eritreans fought for independence for 30 years until the overthrow of Ethiopia's previous leader, Mengistu Haile Mariam, in May 1991. UN observers are expected to monitor the referendum there in April. The new Ethiopian government is closely allied with the Eritrean People's Liberation Front, the former guerrilla movement that now administers the province.

At the UN-sponsored peace talks on Somalia attended by Mr Boutros-Ghali, four of the 14 Somali armed factions who had been invited did not turn up in protest over several groups not being represented. The strongest Somali warlord, General Mohamed Farah Aideed, who controls most of Mogadishu and much of the south, did attend, with his rival in the Somali capital, the interim president, Ali Mahdi Mohamed.

The four absent Somali groups, one of which is the Somali Salvation Democratic Front, active in the north-west of the country, have called Gen Aideed a 'criminal', and criticise the publicity he has been given.

Mr Boutros-Ghali, who is chairing the meeting, met the four protesting groups after the main meeting. They asked him to extend the invitation to those excluded. They also wanted the scheduled two-day meeting prolonged by several days. The four groups said afterwards that they were sure that one of the uninvited groups would take part in the discussions.

Mr Boutros-Ghali, however, said that the official list would not be changed. He said the excluded groups could meet among themselves if they wanted, and that he did not have the necessary budget to extend the meeting.

In Washington, the US Defense Secretary, Dick Cheney, said some US troops would be withdrawn from Somalia by the end of January, even though the starving African nation remains a 'nasty, dangerous neighbourhood'.

Mr Cheney denied a report that plans had been made to hand the Somalia operation over to UN authorities by 20 January, the day of Bill Clinton's inauguration as president. The continued violence and unrest in Somalia make it difficult to predict when the operation will be handed over to UN peace-keepers, Mr Cheney said.