Eritrea opens ports

Nairobi - Eritrea has pledged to facilitate efforts to help famine victims in Ethiopia by offering its ports for expeditious humanitarian assistance delivery, the foreign ministry announced in a statement.

The government said on Thursday that it was aware of its "obligations ... (in) a crisis of huge proportions and because it has no desire to penalise destitute populations in Ethiopia for the wrongs done by their government".

Relations between the two Horn of Africa nations have remained tense since the end in May 2000 of a bloody border war. Seven years earlier, Eritrea won its independence from Ethiopia, which lost its Red Sea ports in the process.

The statement from Asmara pointed out that acute crop shortfalls this year because of severe drought and the threat of famine stalking the whole region were well known.

"Indeed millions of people in Ethiopia and Eritrea will face starvation unless they are assisted timely and in adequate quantities," the Asmara government said.

The United States on Thursday announced emergency aid worth $87m to help Ethiopia through the drought.

The US food aid has begun arriving at the port in neighbouring Djibouti, which has become Ethiopia's main transit point for goods coming in by sea.

Ethiopia on Monday launched a further appeal for food aid for six million people facing starvation in the immediate future, with a possible 15 million at risk in the longer term.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) also appealed to donors on Tuesday to urgently help tackle the food crisis, saying $160m in aid were needed very fast.

Ethiopian Prime Meles Zenawi warned that looming famine could be worse than the terrible drought of 1984-85, which wiped out the country's grain stocks and killed more people than have ever been counted, but believed to number hundreds of thousands.

By mid-November this year, the WFP had received food aid contributions of more than 300 000 tons, worth around $130m, which is enough to feed three million people for a month.

The Swedish government aid agency SIDA also said Wednesday it had earmarked 30 million kronor ($3.33m) to help fight famine in Ethiopia. - Sapa-AFP

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