Ottawa ‘committed’ to aiding jailed man..

Halkaan ka akhri

Baird says government seeking ‘shortest route’ to get Bashir Makhtal home from Ethiopia.

The federal government remains “committed at the highest levels” to doing everything it can to help a Canadian citizen who was sentenced to life in an Ethiopian jail this week, says a senior cabinet minister involved in the case.

Canada is looking at a number of ideas to help Bashir Makhtal, Transport Minister John Baird said yesterday in a phone interview.

“We’re looking at three or four options. But we’d rather not talk about it right now.”

Makhtal, an ethnic Somali born in Ethiopia’s Ogaden region, was convicted last week of being a member of a separatist group, engaging in an armed struggle against the government and aiding and abetting the Islamic Courts Union, a religious alliance that seized control of Somalia before it was toppled by the U.S. and Ethiopian forces. Makhtal has maintained his innocence.

“We are very committed at the highest levels to do everything we can,” said Baird, whose Ottawa riding is home to a large Somali community. “What we want to do is follow the shortest route from here to get Bashir home.”

Baird said he’s met with the Ethiopian foreign affairs minister and “the Ethiopian government understands this is a significant issue.”

Earlier this week, Ottawa acknowledged that Makhtal, a former Torontonian who left Canada in 2002 to start a used clothing business, had been wrongfully convicted. Added Baird: “I have been on the record for some time that there has been no evidence presented against (Makhtal.)”

Makhtal’s family members have called on the government to cut development aid to Ethiopia until Makhtal is freed. But a senior press adviser to Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said earlier this week that a lengthy appeal process would have to be completed before Ottawa considered such drastic action. Makhtal’s lawyer in Ethiopia has said he would likely launch an appeal of the sentence and conviction within the next two weeks.

Said Maktal, a cousin who has been fighting for Bashir Makhtal’s release for 2 1/2 years, said he spoke to Baird yesterday and “he promised he is working on it. … He asked me to give him time. I have no choice but to wait.”

Makhtal was picked up on the border of Somalia and Kenya in December 2006 after fleeing violence in Mogadishu. He was illegally sent to Ethiopia and then held incommunicado for 18 months before being allowed to see a lawyer and Canadian officials.

Source: The Star

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