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  • Title: [SW News] (The East African) Food Aid the Next Casualty in Ethiopia War
  • From: []
  • Date:  [7 June 2000]

Food Aid the Next Casualty in Ethiopia War


Story Filed: Wednesday, June 07, 2000 8:42 PM EST

Addis Ababa (The East African, June 7, 2000) - Ethiopia's Offensive against Eritrea is a violation of international law and involves the misuse of vital resources, according to the United States official in charge of famine-prevention efforts in the Horn.

The recent attack by Ethiopian aircraft on the airport in Eritrea's capital, Asmara, is jeopardising delivery of food aid to hungry civilians throughout the region, said Hugh Parmer, assistant administrator of the US Agency for International Development. Such actions are contrary to international law, Parmer added at a May 31 press briefing in Washington.

The USAid official also agreed with a reporter's suggestion that the government of President Meles Zenawi is waging war with resources that could otherwise be used to supply food to some of the estimated 8.3 million Ethiopians at risk of starvation.

Parmer's comments may signal a shift in Washington's position on the border war in the Horn. While the Clinton administration continues to insist it does not favour either side in the conflict, some policymakers clearly view Ethiopia as the aggressor. They also fear that its belligerence is making the US public less responsive to appeals for food aid for the entire region, including Kenya and Uganda.

Congressman Benjamin Gilman, chairman of the House of Representatives' international relations committee, urged the US last January to end its neutrality and to tilt toward Eritrea. Gilman denounced President Zenawi for rejecting a pending peace plan and warned that if the war resumed, Ethiopia would be held responsible.

Officials say, however, that the war will not deter US efforts to save the lives of the 16 million East Africans who lack sufficient food. "At this moment, we are optimistic we can prevent another famine," declared USAid head, Brady Anderson, at the May 31 briefing while announcing a new initiative for the Horn.

But this latest US package of non-food aid contains more money for Eritrea than for Ethiopia, even though Ethiopia's population is 20 times larger and the threat of famine there is judged especially severe.

Eritrea is to receive nearly $3 million of the $11 million in new USAid assistance for drought-stricken countries in the Horn. The money is intended to help Eritreans displaced by the latest fighting.

Ethiopia is slated to get almost $2 million, slightly less than the amount being provided to Kenya for health care and safe-water projects in famine- threatened districts. Some 2.7 million Kenyans are in danger of starving in the coming months, according to USAid.

Overall, the United States has pledged to provide $324 million worth of emergency food shipments to the Horn. Some of this aid is being given to Uganda, where half a million people are said to be facing famine, as well as to Sudan and Somalia, both of which are on poor terms with Washington.

Parmer acknowledged that by providing relief to countries at war internally or with one another, donors may, to some extent, be facilitating the conflicts.

"But what is your alternative?" Parmer asked. Recalling his fact-finding visit to the Horn in March, he spoke of the suffering he witnessed in Ethiopia's Gode region. "The baby in the mother's arms that I saw in Gode is not particularly interested in the war and, in my judgment, shouldn't suffer because his or her government is pursuing a different policy."

*On Saturday, Ethiopian and Eritrean forces battled near Eritrea's Red Sea port of Assab as the war dragged on despite peace talks. The World Food Programme estimated the number of Eritreans displaced by recent fighting could be as high as 750,000.

Copyright 2000 The East African. Distributed via Africa News Online.

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