Ethiopian Government Allows Food Deliveries in Rebel Provinces
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Ethiopian government allowed trucks to deliver U.S. emergency food to people living in rebel-held northern provinces for the first time last week, a U.S. official said Wednesday.
″That is a change and that to us is hopeful,″ said M. Peter McPherson, the administrator for the Agency for International Development, who was touring Ethiopia at the time the shipments were made.
Ethiopia’s decision to grant permission for American food to enter the north came just days before a congressional deadline that could lead to economic and trade sanctions against Mengistu Haile Mariam’s regime.
Under law, President Reagan has until Friday to determine whether the Marxist Ethiopian government is deliberately withholding food from Eritrea and Tigre.
If Reagan determines such a policy exists, Congress would decide whether to impose sanctions against Ethiopia, such as curtailing trade. Emergency aid would continue to go through.
Residents in the northern areas, hard-hit by famine and drought, have been waging a war of secession against the central government for years.
McPherson, who has repeatedly criticized the Ethiopian government for what he said was a conscious effort to withhold food from the north, would not comment on his recommendation to the president.
Two private voluntary organizations, Catholic Relief Services and World Vision, actually arranged the feedings, McPherson said. Those groups distribute grain under a contract agreement with AID.
″Don’t point this out as a momentous event,″ McPherson told reporters, adding, ″Let’s see how it unfolds.″
So far, only a few truckloads of food have gone to the north and the project is expected to feed about 200,000 people.
Although the United States has no firm figures, the number of people at risk in the north is believed to be much higher than 200,000 and could total as many as two million.
Last winter, thousands of starving Ethiopians crossed over the border to Sudan, seeking food at refugee camps. Many of those people have returned to their homes now, McPherson said.
The Ethiopian government has denied it pursued a starvation policy in the north, but officials have said they encountered logistical problems in shipping food to areas where guerrillas operate.
Summarizing his week-long visit to Ethiopia and Sudan, McPherson said the food situation in both countries is dramatically better, but the problem is not over.
Currently, about seven million people in Sudan and five million in Ethiopia are receiving emergency food, with the United States providing about 50 percent of Ethiopia’s needs and 85 percent of Sudan’s.
McPherson said the American aid effort - both government and private - has saved ″hundreds of thousands of lives, if not millions.″