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Alex Last in Eritrea
"Trenches now straddle the old route to Ethoiopia"
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The BBC's Jeremy Cooke
"Without foriegn help millions could starve"
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Thursday, 13 April, 2000, 17:26 GMT 18:26 UK
War blocks Ethiopia's lifeline
Massawa port
Eritrea offers Ethiopia a food corridor
By Alex Last in Asmara

Eritrea's two ports used to handle the bulk of Ethiopia's imports and exports.

When the war broke out in May 1998, Ethiopia turned to Djibouti for its supplies, and still says Djibouti is sufficient for its needs.

Now the United Nations wants Ethiopia to consider using the ports again, to speed up the delivery of international aid.

Ethiopia continues to rule out the use of the Eritrean ports, recalling a consignment of aid intended for Ethiopia which disappeared in the port of Assab at the start of the war.

The Eritrean Government has however reiterated its commitment to open a food corridor.

The most obvious route would be via the southern Eritrean port of Assab, which has been at a standstill since the war with Ethiopia began in May 1998.

Which port for land-locked Ethiopia?
Over 90% of its business had been with Ethiopia. Now its activity is centred around supplying the Eritrean army, which is dug in on the front line with Ethiopia only 71 km away.

The port, though, is in good condition and has berths for six ships.

Before the war, 300 trucks a day would travel the tarmac road which goes straight to Ethiopia.

However, the road is now straddled by trenches which are home to over 60,000 soldiers.

The other Eritrean port of Massawa is a less promising entry point, partly because the route into Ethiopia runs through the most volatile front line south of the Eritrean capital.

Eritrea's worries

The Eritrean offer is conditional on international guarantees that the food aid would not, as they fear, go to the Ethiopian army.

War hampers famine relief
Many detailed security arrangements would also need to be made.

Meanwhile, the Eritrean Government has resolved its dispute with USAid over missing food aid sent to Ethiopia in 1998 through Assab.

The food was left stranded in the port when the war began, and the government distributed it among its own afflicted population.

But Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi on Thursday accused Eritrea of "looting" the food, and rejected the suggestion by UN envoy Catherine Bertini that aid to Ethiopia should once again pass through Eritrean ports.

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