BIAFRA: Talking Again

Time Friday, August 16, 1968
At the urging of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, the antagonists in Nigeria's 14-month-old civil war assembled in Addis Ababa last week to talk peace once again. Three previous meetings, the most recent three months ago in Kampala, had come to nothing. This time Ethiopia's venerable Lion of Judah told his guests, who represented the federal government in Lagos and the Biafra secessionists: "You cannot afford to fail. You must succeed. There is no alternative." Then he added: "We would like to appeal to you earnestly to refrain from polemics." Both appeals went unheeded.

Resplendently uniformed, Biafran leader Lieut. Colonel Odumegwu Ojukwu launched into a 2-hr. 10-min. speech that borrowed at one point from Haile Selassie himself. "There is no precedent for a people being victim of such injustice and being at present threatened by abandonment to its aggressor," he said. "It is in order to denounce to the civilized world the tortures inflicted upon my people that I resolved to come to—Geneva." He was quoting the Emperor's plea to the League of Nations in 1936, after Mussolini's troops had overrun Ethiopia. "I was defending the cause of all small people who are threatened by aggression," Ojukwu went on, still quoting his host. "It is us today. It will be you tomorrow."

Grave Mistakes. Ojukwu insisted that Biafra would not surrender its independence to Federal Nigeria. The Nigerian federal government, represented by Chief Anthony Enahoro, demanded exactly that. Enahoro's tone was, however, more conciliatory than before: "It may be that history will decide that there are no angels on any side in the recent history of Nigeria. We have all made mistakes, grave mistakes." Still, there was no mistaking his point that Nigeria would not agree to secession. "I cannot conceive," he said, "of any mutually acceptable proposal that does not envisage the unity and territorial integrity of Nigeria." There the talks stalled, though both sides agreed to meet again this week.

More than 3,000 tons of food and medicines for Biafra were also stalled on the Spanish island of Fernando Po off the Nigerian coast and at mainland relief centers in Lagos and Enugu, the former Biafran capital now held by federal troops. Top United Nations and Red Cross mediators were in Nigeria last week trying to obtain entry into starving Biafra for the supplies, so far without success. Meanwhile, the fighting continued, as the Nigerians sought to shrink still further the territory defended by the surrounded Biafrans.

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