Ethiopia says aid follows 'skeletons on screen'

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Ethiopia claimed yesterday the international community reacts to famine in Africa only "when people come to see the skeletons on the screen" but the European Union complained that Ethiopia's 22-month border conflict with Eritrea was keeping relief food from the hungry.

The Foreign Minister of Ethiopia, Seyoum Mesfin, said he had warned international donors last December that a famine was imminent but said he waited a long time for a reply. He was speaking at the Africa-Europe summit in Cairo, which concluded yesterday.

The EU development commissioner, Poul Nielson, called on Ethiopia and Eritrea to improve relations and facilitate the import of 800,000 tons of food through the Eritrean port of Massawa to the famine areas. The port is 62 miles from the border with landlocked Ethiopia. But the border crossing in the Zalambessa region is contested by both countries, making any agreement on the transfer of food unlikely.

The Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Meles Zenawi, met several EU leaders during the summit and painted a picture of "a devastating prospect of famine", one diplomat said.

The Ethiopian ambassador to Britain criticised the Government last night for not spending enough on aid for Ethiopia.

Beyene Negewo said the £2.4m of UK food aid was "by no means sufficient to bring safety to those dying people". He said the help already pledged needed to arrive more quickly.

The Secretary of State for International Development, Clare Short, promised yesterday to consider ways of stepping up aid to Ethiopia. Ms Short said the £2.4m of food was already being distributed to the worst-hit regions, but Dr Negewo said his information was that it had yet to arrive.