Aid chief warns Ethiopia: Stop killing and kidnapping workers or we'll pull out

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The Independent Online

The Government officials did not know what had hit them. They had laid on a formal ceremony to greet Catherine Bertini, executive director of the World Food Programme, as she began her first field visit on an eight-day tour to assess the threat of famine in the Horn of Africa. They had expected she would respond in similar vein.

She was in the south-east of Ethiopia where thousands of nomads have migrated to makeshift camps in search of water and food. Officials at the regional capital, Gode, told her the number in need of help had now risen from 1.3 to 1.7 million.

But, after saying how much aid they needed, and how pleased they were to see her, they were given a broadside by the quietly spoken American. A driver with the French agency Médecins sans Frontiÿres had been shot dead in February, she said. A WFP worker had been kidnapped. And three years ago two WFP workers had been killed. Had anything been done, she asked to bring those responsible to justice.

The officials seemed dazed. Despite their hasty assurances of security, Ms Bertini continued: "These incidents are more than enough for us to be worried about sending international staff into this region."

Ms Bertini was clearly uncomfortable with criticisms the international community had been slow in its response. There was nothing much thatcould have been done as the people involved are nomads. She said: "It is difficult to help people before they have gone to a place where food can be distributed. How do you reach people living in the desert?"

Those who have been sitting outside Gode for three months might disagree.