PORT SUDAN, SUDAN, NOV. 30 -- In a conciliatory move that may ease severe food shortages in northern Ethiopia, Eritrean rebels today announced that they will give relief agencies advance warning of their military operations.
The Eritrean People's Liberation Front, which last month was widely criticized for destroying a large food-relief convoy, also announced that it has instructed its forces to "take all possible precautions" to separate relief from military vehicles in any future attacks on Ethiopian government convoys.
The announcement by the rebels, who control most of the countryside in Eritrea, marks an abrupt change from their unapologetic statements after their destruction in late October of 23 U.S.-donated trucks carrying of 450 tons of relief food. The food -- enough to feed 45,000 people for a month -- was burned in the attack, part of one of the rebels' biggest offensives in the war.
Paulos Tesfa Giorgis, head of the relief arm of the Eritrean rebel movement, said today that the attack was "taken out of the context of the war." He said the new policy "is to show good will."
In the wake of the October attack, which delayed the delivery of desperately needed relief food in northern Ethiopia, the U.S. government threatened to stop deliveries of all food going into rebel-controlled territory.
Since 1984, the United States and several European donors have given the EPLF a large amount of relief food for famine victims, to be transported into Eritrea through bordering Sudan. The United States had pledged 15,000 tons for delivery early in 1988.
According to Paulos, chairman of the Eritrean Relief Association, the rebels' change of policy grew out of the perception by rebel leaders of a rapidly worsening food shortage.
He said severe drought will require that large amounts of food be delivered from both the government and rebel sides to prevent rural people from gathering in camps in search of food, where disease becomes a problem. In the famine of 1984-85, hundreds of thousands of people died in such camps, mostly from infectious diseases.