Ethiopia cannot use Cuban aid in its "internal" efforts against Eritrean rebels but Cuban specialists are helping "in what is a defensive war against a Somali invasion," said Cuban Vice President Carlos Rafael Rodriguez in an interview published yesterday by the London Observer.

"We helped the Eritreans in their fight for self-determination from the time of Haile Selassie onward," he said. "We feel that there has to be some political solution . . . But Eritrea is an internal problem."

Rodriguez, widely considered to be the most powerful Cuban leader after President Fidel Castro and his brother Raul, said there are "Cuban specialists who are helping the Ethiopians to use the different types of military equipment, Western and Communist, in what is a defensive war against a Somali invasion."

Latest U.S. estimates put the number of Cubans in Ethiopia, including those in a "combat role," at over 10,000.

In Moscow, the official Soviet news agency Tass said a State Department statement Saturday "distorts the Soviet Union's policy concerning the events in the Horn of Africa."

Tass did not detail the "distortions" but apparently referred to the U.S. assertion that continued shipment of weapons and military personnel to Ethiopia would widen the hostilities. Tass asserted that Moscow seeks a peaceful solution.