Maj. Dawit Wolde Giorgis, the missing head of the Ethiopian famine relief program, has surfaced in the United States but denied yesterday that he is seeking political asylum.
Dawit, in a telephone interview from an undisclosed location, said he is now on "vacation" in the United States and was getting a general medical checkup.
He refused to say whether he will return to Ethiopia but said, "I am not seeking political asylum." He had been scheduled to return Nov. 23 after a nearly month-long fund-raising trip in Western Europe and the United States.
He said he has been in contact with the Ethiopian mission to the United Nations in New York about his plans.
Dawit is well-known among U.N. and western relief organization as a forceful proponent of Ethiopian views. His defection would be a considerable embarrassment to his Marxist government.
Reacting to news reports that he might be seeking poitical asylum here because he owned property in California, Dawit insisted he had never owned a house anywhere in the United States.
Describing himself as "hurt" by such allegations, the major said, "I don't have any properties in the world, not even in Ethiopia. I rent my house there.
"I never imagined having a house in California," he said.
The allegations "hurt, hurt quite a lot," he added.
Dawit, a Columbia University law school graduate, has held a number of important positions in the Ethiopian government and was at one point governor of war-torn Eritrea Province in northern Ethiopia. He has also held the No. 2 position in the foreign ministry.