The United States says it is more than doubling humanitarian aid to Ethiopia's troubled Ogaden region. The announcement was made Saturday following talks beween top U.S. foreign aid officials and Ethiopia's prime minister on the importance of stability in the Horn of Africa region. From Addis Ababa, VOA's Peter Heinlein reports the meeting came days before a deadline in the simmering border dispute between Ethiopia and neighboring Eritrea.
U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Henrietta Fore's talks with Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi touched on tensions along the Ethiopia-Eritrea border and on efforts to rush emergency food aid to the insurgency-wracked Ogaden region.
Ethiopia is again allowing several humanitarian agencies into the Ogaden after expelling a number of groups last July, including the International Committee of the Red Cross. Fore said she told Mr. Meles of Washington's concern that many people in the conflict zone do not have access to basic necessities.
"We spoke about our shared concern to be sure we are looking out for the food security of the people in Ogaden and the work of our many partners who are working in the Ogaden," said Fore. "We have a good deal of assistance that is going into the Ogaden."
Fore said the United States is more than doubling this year's assistance program for Ogaden from $19 million to about $45 million. With the United Nations estimating nearly a million Ogadeni people in need of food, USAID mission director for Ethiopia Glenn Anders termed the assistance an emergency.
"Our office of food for peace has committed to $25 million more in predominantly food grains, but that includes oil and corn; soybean as well, and that's already purchased and on its way," said Anders.
USAID administrator Fore acknowledged that she had discussed with Ethiopia's leader Washington's concerns about the possibility of renewed outbreak of war along the disputed border with neighboring Eritrea. An estimated 70,000 people died when the Horn of Africa rivals fought in the late 90s, and tensions are again high as a border commission named to adjudicate the dispute prepares to close down late this month.
Fore says she mentioned to Prime Minister Meles that providing aid is easier when countries are stable and peaceful.
"It is always easier to help a country at peace. It is because you can move around the country. People have more hope and more chance of having a little business, going to school, building a clinic," she added. "People always have more hope if there is stability and security in a country."
Sitting alongside the USAID administrator, Washington's ambassador to Ethiopia Donald Yamamoto played down the fact that an independent commission charged with the demarkation of the 1000-kilometer border between Ethiopia and Eritrea is to dissolve later this month. He says Washington believes the two countries must settle their differences themselves, as stated in the Algiers Accord that ended their last war.
"The only way resolution can be achieved is from the parties themselves addressing the issues directly with each other and implementing decisions on resolution of the border issues, and also their own differences," said Yamamoto.
With border tensions high, a number of high-ranking officials will be visiting the Horn of Africa region in the next weeks to impress on officials the importance of preventing another outbreak of war.
U.N. Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes is due in Addis Ababa Monday, and will visit the Ogaden region Tuesday. Several U.S. lawmakers and officials are said to be planning trips to Ethiopia soon, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.