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Ethiopia rejects call to end war and start fight against famine

Ethiopia has no intention of stopping its war with Eritrea, despite the tightening grip of drought and the threat of famine to 8 million people in both countries, the Ethiopian Prime Minister said yesterday.

Meles Zenawi refused to rule out that Ethiopia might launch the next offensive in the conflict. He has told the United Nations special envoy to the region, Catherine Bertini, that Ethiopia will not bow to international pressure to end the war to help the relief effort. Most donor nations cut off long-term development aid to Ethiopia two years ago when fighting began. At present only emergency aid is given.

In a private meeting with the UN envoy the Prime Minister "expressed strong objection", he said afterwards, to attempts by the West "to link the disaster relief programme with the conflict imposed on this country by the Eritrean invasion".

His impatience seemed directed at the United States, which has been attempting to broker an agreement between the two sides. "It is time to stop coddling the rogue state in Asmara which has fallen out with four of its neighbours in the last five years," he said.

The war was not hampering the aid effort, Mr Zenawi said, but he refused to confirm or deny US claims that the war was costing $1m a day.

Ethiopian officials claim that the West's protest against the war is merely an excuse to cover its tardiness in sticking to pledges to send food aid to Ethiopia. "Some [nations] were not as responsive as we would have liked," Mr Zenawi said. "While some engage in the business of spreading untruths in a vain attempt to find scapegoats, we would prefer to focus on saving lives."

Mr Zenawi said he had indications that the US and the EU would agree to send the 899,000 tonnes of food appealed for in January. He said: "If the food arrives there will be no famine."