By Jason McLure

Feb. 17 (Bloomberg) — Ethiopia’s main opposition grouping disputed a government claim that political opponents of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s ruling party are colluding with the country’s arch-enemy, Eritrea.

State radio reported yesterday that the opposition is “covertly and overtly” collaborating with neighboring Eritrea ahead of elections on May 23. Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a 1998-2000 border war that left as many as 70,000 people dead and the two countries’ armies remain deployed along their border.

Such allegations are “dangerous,” Negasso Gidada, a leader of the Unity for Democracy and Justice party, said in a phone interview today in the capital, Addis Ababa. The party forms part of an opposition alliance known as Medrek. “We are clearly a peaceful organization and we stick to the constitution and the rule of law.”

A 2005 crackdown on opposition supporters protesting the results of that year’s elections left 193 people. Birtukan Mideksa, the leader of the UDJ, has been jailed under a life sentence since December 2008, after she said an earlier release from prison was part of a political deal.

Yesterday’s report on government radio said opposition parties plan to claim human rights violations in order to raise questions about the credibility of the elections.

“What is surprising is they are not ashamed of the baseless allegations they make in partnership with the Eritrean government,” the broadcaster said, according to a transcript distributed by the British Broadcasting Corp.’s monitoring service.

UN Sanctions

The United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions on Eritrea in December for its alleged support of al-Qaeda-linked terrorists who are aiming to topple the Somali government. Islamist groups including al-Shabaab and Hisb-ul-Islam, previously based in Eritrea, have gained control of most of southern and central Somalia in their bid to oust President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed’s UN-backed transitional government.

Ethiopia says its two main domestic rebel groups, the ethnic-Somali Ogaden National Liberation Front and the Oromo Liberation Front, are backed by Eritrea.

Ethiopian opposition parties have complained that government media, which controls virtually all of the country’s broadcasters, is being used for pro-Meles propaganda.

The opposition is seeking to foment violence after the elections in the hope of winning an internationally brokered power-sharing agreement with the ruling party along the lines of deals in Kenya and Zimbabwe, Hailemariam Desalegn, parliamentary whip for Meles’ ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, said on Jan. 29.

“If it comes to violence or anything it will come from the government itself,” said Negasso, adding that a power-sharing agreement would be unlikely in Ethiopia because of the U.S. and U.K.’s strong support for Meles.

–Editors: Paul Richardson, Vernon Wessels.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jason McLure in Addis Ababa via Johannesburg at +27-11-286-1999 or pmrichardson@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Antony Sguazzin in Johannesburg at +27-11-286-1934 or asguazzin@bloomberg.net