The 30-year Ethopian civil war has come to a head with last month's capture by rebel forces of Addis Ababa, the capital. The city fell just one week after the country's Marxist president, Mengistu Haile Mariam, resigned and fled to Zimbabwe after a string of rebel victories that brought his foes to the capital's gates.
Mengistu, who had used an iron hand to rule the Horn of Africa nation of 51 million people for 17 years, propped up by Soviet military aid, will not be missed. He was a bloody dictator who inflicted a variety of atrocious acts on one of the world's poorest countries.It seems that almost anything else would represent an improvement.
Nevertheless, there is no guarantee that the new regime will be better, even though rebel goals are to install a free, democratic government in Ethiopia.
The Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) will take control of the country with the support of the United States.
In fact, the EPRDF welcomes U.S. presence and international observers who can help speed the transition from a bloody dictatorship to a democratic regime.
The U.S. mediator has called for a broadly based provisional government and elections within a year to put the country on a path to democracy. He also believes that Addis Ababa should be demilitarized as soon as possible and fighting throughout the country cease.
That is easier said than done. Even though the rebel success appears encouraging to a poor, war-torn nation, it is sure to be a long, arduous process to achieve both stability and democracy. Fighting is continuing.
To make matters worse, an ammunition dump exploded this week in a heavily populated area of Addis Ababa, causing many casualties. Rebels blamed the explosion on sabotage. A similar ammunition dump blast last week killed more than 500 people in the capital.
During the EPRDF advance an Addis Ababa, another insurgent group achieved a 30-year goal by winning all of Ethiopia's northernmost province, Eritrea, which controls the nation's Red Sea ports.
The two insurgent groups worked together to topple Mengistu and end traditional rule by Ethiopia's elite, but their goals differ.
The Eritreans want a vote on secession under U.N. supervision that would give them international legitimacy. As recent Soviet experience suggests, it is a complicated enough process to move from dictatorship to democracy without worrying about secession of a major province.
It portends no easy solution and almost certain continuation of conflict.