- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 30, 1999

Morocco's media

U.S. Ambassador to Morocco Edward Gabriel has upset Moroccan-Americans by criticizing what he sees as libelous reporting in the North African kingdom.

The National Council on American Moroccan Relations this week complained that Mr. Gabriel interfered in Morocco's internal affairs through his defense of a former Moroccan ambassador to the United States and other officials who, in a series of news reports, were accused of corruption.

"We have in the past refrained from criticizing Ambassador Gabriel simply because he was an Arab-American," council president Abdel Kader Rhanime wrote in a letter to Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright.

"However due to his latest statement, we find ourselves obliged to publicly voice our concerns and strong criticism [because] his statement has destroyed his objectivity."

Mr. Gabriel offended the council in a Dec. 24 interview with the Moroccan daily newspaper, Al Itihad Al Ichtiraki.

He said the "sizable freedom of the press" that has developed in Morocco has been marred by reckless reporting.

"In recent days, Morocco has seen an unbelievable number of new weekly and daily publications, but at the same time we witnessed a huge increase in the press of personal accusations," he said.

"Having a bigger number of newspapers and magazines is a good thing, but it is my personal opinion that the press ought to review its ethics."

He added that "some Moroccan newspapers must revisit their work style."

"I know personally that some publications published accusations against some ministers and personalities that I know were not true," Mr. Gabriel added. "This is a sad thing when someone is accused using false information."

Mr. Rhanime, in his letter to Mrs. Albright, said Mr. Gabriel was referring to a series of news articles that included charges against Foreign Minister Mohammed Benaissa, a former Moroccan ambassador in Washington.

"Ambassador Gabriel, in the first place, should not be making this kind of a statement at all because he is breaking the most sacred of diplomatic rules. Not only did he clearly commit an act of interference in Morocco's internal affairs, he pronounced himself to defend certain 'personalities and ministers' as he refers to [them]," Mr. Rhanime wrote.

He said none of the officials identified in the news articles has denied the allegations, which included embezzlement of government funds and mismanagement of the Moroccan diplomatic corps.

"The ambassador reflects the position of the world's sole superpower, and he ought to greatly weigh his thoughts, let alone his statement, because he can affect the well-being of millions of people," Mr. Rhanime wrote.

Visit to Tigray

The new U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia came away from a visit to the disputed border area with a new appreciation for Ethiopia's frustration with the foreign perception of its conflict with Eritrea.

Ambassador Tibor P. Naby last month visited Ethiopia's northern Tigray region and toured the Ayder Elementary School.

The Ethiopian Embassy said the school was bombed twice in June 1998, killing scores of children, teachers and parents and injuring hundreds.

Mr. Naby met government officials, religious leaders, the heads of development organizations and representatives from women's groups and the World Food Program.

"During his trip, he remarked that the Ethiopian people have come to resent the scant attention given to the Ethiopian-Eritrean conflict," the Ethiopian Embassy said in a report on his visit in its latest newsletter.

Working in Ethiopia

Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright has presented the American firm of F.C. Schaffer & Associates an award for corporate excellence for its work in Ethiopia.

The firm has been investing in Ethiopia for 20 years and most recently began construction of a multimillion-dollar sugar factory that is described as "environmentally friendly" because waste water will be diverted for crop irrigation.

Mrs. Albright presented the award last week in a ceremony at the State Department.

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