The government of Mauritania has pledged to fight corruption following the arrest of five officials on charges of embezzlement.

The five officials, all from the ministry of rural development, were charged with stealing as much as $1 million from an aid fund.

The internationally funded aid project was established to distribute food and material goods throughout the country to victims of the severe drought in 2002 and 2003.

The five men, including a top ministry official, were officially charged on Wednesday with abuse of public trust. They were sent to jail pending a trial in the case.

The last major case of embezzlement to be brought against government officials was in 1996. The judge in that case released the officials pending a trial that never took place.

Mauritania is an impoverished, mostly desert nation, with a history of political instability and intrigue. It relies heavily on international aid for food and other basic needs, but recent off-shore oil finds hold out the promise of a steady income and less dependence on handouts.

Following the indictment of the officials, a spokesman for President Maaouyo Ould Taya said the government will implement radical reforms to weed out government corruption.