April 14, 2000 (4:05 am local time)


Introductory Statement by Prime Minster Meles at an interview with the International Press

                                                           April 14, 2000 (4:05 am local time)


I am pleased to welcome you to Ethiopia. I welcome your presence here to report on the drought situation in our country, which has exposed millions to extreme danger.


The present crisis, which is the result of three years of continued drought in large parts of our country, was anticipated in good time, and I have no doubt more could have been done to contain the danger before it got to this stage.


However, we are where we are, and the bottom line is to save lives. While we have no intention of rolling-over when some engage in the business of spreading untruths in a vain effort to find a scapegoat, we would very much prefer to focus all our attention on saving lives. The pledges that have been made, and the promises made over the past few days give us a realisti chance of averting disaster provided we work together to save lives. In this regard I am very pleased with the discussions I had this morning with Ms. Bertini of the WFP. I hope that her visit to our country will mark the beginning of a chapter in this saga where humanitarian issues are separated  from political issues.


I have assured Ms. Bertini that Ethiopia is able to transport the food required to save lives if the food is made available at Djibouti and Berbera. We have agreed to work closely to make sure that there are no bottlenecks to the flow of food aid and that there is no port congestion. The monthly  requirements of food assistance, if made available at these ports on a timely basis will and can be transported and distributed without delay and without creating congestion at the ports.


I have told Ms. Bertini that if effective use of Djibouti and Berbera is made there would not be any need to use other ports to cater for the monthly requirements of the needy. I have expressed the government of Ethiopia's strong objection to any attempt to link the drought relief programme with the conflict imposed on Ethiopia by Eritrea.


It is the long-standing position of Ethiopia that aggression must be reversed by peaceful means if possible and by force if necessary. Ethiopia's preference to peacefully reverse the aggression is not contingent on the presence or absence of a drought induced emergency. It is based on our principled commitment to resolve disputes peacefully. Likewise, our commitment to reverse the aggression by force if peaceful avenues are blocked, as they currently appear to be due to the intransigence of the

government in Asmara, is a commitment of principle and one that is not contingent on the presence or absence of other emergencies. We strongly believe it is time to stop coddling the rogue state in Asmara that has provoked military confrontation with four of its five neighbours in less than five years of independence. We believe it is time to tell the regime in Asmara in no uncertain terms that it must reverse its aggression peacefully and  urgently or face the consequences of its rogue behaviour.


Issued by the FDRE Office of Government Spokesperson on 14/04/00