Ethiopia, fighting Eritrean separatists in the northeast and Somali insurgents in the south, faces a serious food shortage because it cannot use its main ports, a top U.N. food aid official said in Rome yesterday.

Thomas Robinson, executive director of the U.N. World Food Program, told Reuter that Ethiopia lacks trucks to transport food either from the only harbor it can use or from Ethiopian farmers in area with food surpluses.

Ethiopia cannot use the port in Djibouti because the railway linking it with Addis Ababa has been cut by Somali guerrillas, he said, and the government is also unable to use the major port of Massawa, near Asmara in Eritrea, because insurgents control roads there. This means that food is piling up at Assab in Southeastern Eritrea, the one port the government can use, Robinson said.

Heavy fighting was reported at several points in the vast battle area stretching from Eritrea south through the Ogaden Desert region.

Somali guerrillas said they had killed nearly a thousand Ethiopian soldiers and wounded many others in a battle for two government strongholds in mountains 150 miles southeast of Addis Ababa.

Radio Mogadishu quoted the Western Somalia Liberation Front as saying its forces were still attacking the strongholds of Goba and Ginir in Bale Province.

Fighting in the Bale mountains on the far side of the Rift valley from the Ethiopian capital would be the closest the war has come to Addis Ababa.

The communique said the main engagements so far have been in the villages of Dolo Biddo, Akasha and Ado Taro, around Ginir, and on the amin road to Addis Ababa at Dilla, a village west of Goba, the capital of Bale Province.

Large quantities of arms and ammunition were captured, the communique said.

The Ethiopians did not issue a communique, and the report could not be confirmed.

Informed sources in Djibouti said the Ethiopian air force has inflicted heavy losses on Somali aircraft in clashes at the Somali-Ethiopian border. Suspension of Somali Airlines flights to Djibouti caused speculation that the airline's planes had been requisitioned for military use.