New Leaders Urge Resumption of Aid; Ousted General in Italian Embassy
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) _ Victorious rebel leaders today urged relief workers to immediately expand efforts to feed an estimated 7.3 million drought victims, many cut off from aid by the offensive that toppled the government.
In another development, Italy’s Foreign Ministry announced today that Lt. Gen. Tesfaye Gebre-Kidan, who took over leadership of the country after President Mengistu Haile Mariam fled on May 21, had been given refuge in the Italian Embassy ″for humanitarian reasons.″
Tesfaye, who had led the military effort against the rebels, was in charge of the collapsing government for only one week between Mengistu’s departure and the rebel takeover. His whereabouts had been unknown since the takeover.
Six other Mengistu supporters, reportedly members of his government, also found refuge in the embassy, a ministry spokesman said.
Amid the upheaval, tens of thousands of Ethiopians have fled to neighboring countries. A top official in neighboring Sudan says 100,000 Ethiopians have fled to his country and that 150,000 more could be on their way.
The office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva said attacks and looting of supply convoys have forced temporary suspension of U.N. efforts to get food to most of the famine-threatened regions in Ethiopia.
In Addis Ababa, diplomatic sources said Meles Zenawi, 36, the medical school dropout who heads the ruling rebel front, was expected to arrive today. He played a key role in U.S.-mediated talks in London that led to a cease-fire in the civil war and the rebel takeover.
Today’s meeting of rebel officials with nearly 300 relief officials came as the capital gradually returned to normal following two days of demonstrations against the insurgents and the U.S. role in the rebel takeover on Tuesday. Traffic in the capital returned to the city’s streets and businesses and shops operated as usual.
At least 10 protesters were killed since Wednesday in demonstrations broken up by authorities’ gunfire outside the U.S. Embassy and other buildings.
The aid meeting was convened by Tamrat Layne, vice chairman of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, the Tigrean-dominated group in control of the capital and most national services.
Mengistu’s ousted government often hindered aid shipments to rebel-held areas.
Tamrat told the group of aid workers and donor government representatives that the Red Sea port of Assab was reopened, and Abay Tsehaye, a member of the executive committee of the Front, assured relief workers that the new government would provide security and facilities for aid distribution.
″We expect, and we are confident, that you will resume your activities immediately,″ Abay told about 300 representatives of donor nations and relief organizations in Addis Ababa.
But the office of the U.N. High Comissioner for Refugees said many warhouses it operates have been emptied of their buffer stocks, and a ″large percentage″ of the vehicles used by it and other humanitarian agencies have been stolen or destroyed.
The office, citing field reports, said hundreds of thousands in Ethopia’s eastern Ogaden region have been without any food supplies for the past several days and the situation was ″desperate.″
″Bridges have been blown up and camps once considered logistically difficult to supply have become totally inmaccessible,″ the report said. ″Armed bands have repeatedly attacked and looted food convoys.″
The United Nations says more than 114,000 tons of relief supplies are at Assab, which is vital to efforts to get food to drought victims in the nation’s northern provinces of Tigre, Welo and elsewhere.
Emergency supplies to the nation’s northernmost province, Eritrea, have been handled primarily through the port of Massawa, and reportedly continued during the takeover of that province by secessionist insurgents.
Tamrat said the government was working to arrange security for convoys from Assab to Dessye, capital of Welo province, which is a crucial road link to Tigre and the estimated 1.4 million drought victims in the province.
Tamrat said the rebels also hoped to have Addis Ababa’s international airport open early next week - at least for use by aid agencies.
In neighboring Sudan, meanwhile, a government official says up to two dozen Ethiopian refugees are dying every day from illness and lack of health care.
Col. Mohammed Khalifa, a member of Sudan’s ruling military junta, appealed for international assistance.
Interior Minister Maj. Gen. al-Zubair Mohamed Salih said 100,000 Ethiopian soldiers and civilians have crossed into Sudan since rebel forces took over the country. Khalifa predicted 150,000 more refugees are expected to flood the country in the next few days.
The British High Commission confirmed it had given sanctuary to a dozen relatives of former Emperor Haile Selassie, who was overthrown in a 1974 by a cadre of army officers led by Mengistu.
Eritrea, a former Italian colony, is now in the hands of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front. It said Wednesday it would form its own provisional government in the province.