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Ethiopian Red Cross Cuts Ties With ICRC

May 9, 1988

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) _ Ethiopia’s Red Cross Society has cut its ties with the International Committee of the Red Cross because the international group refused to hand over its food supplies in the war-torn north.

Ethiopian Red Cross Chairman Dawit Zewdie announced the break Sunday in a speech marking Red Cross Day and the 125th anniversary of the international Red Cross movement.

The Geneva-based Red Cross was part of a massive relief effort to save an estimated 7 million Ethiopians from starvation following severe crop failures last year.

More than 3 million of those people are in the northern provinces of Eritrea and Tigre, where the international committee was feeding about 500,000 people until last month when the government expelled all foreign aid workers from the provinces, citing security reasons. The government is battling two separate insurgencies in the region.

Before leaving, international Red Cross workers locked up about 53,000 metric tons of food and equipment, including approximately 40 trucks.

Jean-Jacques Fresard, the international body’s chief delegate in Ethiopia, said the action was according to the group’s general policy.

″Supplies are never handed over ... without having our expatriate presence to monitor and control the operation,″ Fresard said in a telephone interview.

Fresard said the move by the Ethopian Red Cross had been expected.

″They wanted to go on with the joint agreement only if we handed over all our supplies,″ said Fresard. ″We couldn’t do that.″

It was not immediately clear what practical effect the break will have, since the government expulsion last month put a stop to international Red Cross operations in Eritrea and Tigre.

Fresard said he did not believe it would affect operations in Gondar, where the international organization is feeding 100,000 people and hopes eventually to reach 230,000 drought victims.

Bekele Geleta, secretary-general of the Ethiopian Red Cross, said he was unsure whether the Ethopian group would allow the international Red Cross to go on working in Gondar.

″We would like to continue, but the ICRC is causing a lot of problems,″ he said.

Relations between the international Red Cross and the Ethiopian government have deteriorated since the expulsions. Ethiopia has accused the international group of running covert operations in the north and of supporting guerrillas who have been fighting for 27 years in Africa’s longest civil war in Eritrea.

The international Red Cross, which has an international mandate under the Geneva Convention to operate in regions of conflict, has maintained an office in Ethiopia since the East African nation fought a full-scale war with Somalia in 1977-78.

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