The State Department, confirming reports that Ethiopia has ousted about 60,000 famine victims from a feeding camp, yesterday deplored the action and called on the Ethiopian government to take "immediate steps" to rectify the situation.
A State Department spokesman said the move was "apparently an arbitrary action by senior local authorities."
Later, Agency for International Development Director M. Peter McPherson told reporters that the action amounted to imposing a "death sentence" on half the estimated 60,000 persons reported in the Ibnet camp near Gondar in northwestern Ethiopia.
He condemned as "brutal" and "barbaric" the abrupt way in which local authorities closed the camp and forced residents to trek home without being given adequate means to survive.
McPherson, too, said the action appeared to have been taken at the initiative of local authorites.
McPherson and State Department spokesman Ed Djerjian said the United States is trying to find out what can be done to save those forced to leave the camp from death by starvation.
He said he has asked U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar to "make his views known on the subject" and has contacted Brad Morse, director of the U.N. emergency operation office for Africa, to convey U.S. concern about the closing.
Several members of Congress expressed outrage about the situation and concern that relief efforts in Ethiopia and other famine-stricken African countries might be undermined.
Reporting on the U.S. role in the international famine relief effort, McPherson said that, for fiscal 1985, the United States is providing 1.7 million tons of food, about half of all relief assistance going to African famine victims.
By the end of June, he said, 90 percent of the U.S. aid is expected to have reached "the shores of Africa," with 900,000 tons already there. But bottlenecks in inland transportation, particularly the shortage of trucks to haul relief supplies, were "enormous," he said.
He criticized the Ethiopian government for diverting 600 trucks to resettle hundreds of thousands of famine victims from the north to the south, while there was a backup of 100,000 tons of food in the Red Sea port of Assab and another 80,000 tons waiting to be moved out of warehouses.