Ethiopia declined on Monday an Eritean offer to use its ports to deliver badly needed to help offset the effects of a drought that threatens millions of Ethiopians.
"The problem at the moment is not about ports but how to obtain food," Netsannet Asfaw, the Ethiopian minister of state for information, said. "We have many ports that we can use and there is a difference between rejecting and saying this is not an issue."
Both countries have been hit by a severe drought with at least 15 million in Ethiopia and Eritrea in need of aid. But the offer opens old wounds between the two impoverished countries that fought a two-year border war in which tens of thousands of people died.
Access to seaports is also a controversial issue in Ethiopia, which had annexed Eritrea for 31 years. Eritrea gained its independence from its neighbour in 1993, making Ethiopia one of the largest landlocked countries in the world. Prior to this Ethiopia had use of the ports of Masawa and Assab, which were then in the Ethiopian province of Eritrea.
In 2000, toward the end of the two-year war, Ethiopia also declined an Eritrea offer to use its ports for food aid deliveries to drought victims in the Somalia Regional State of Ethiopia.
Currently, Ethiopia is receiving food aid through the ports of its eastern neighbour, Djibouti; and humanitarian organisations have looked at the possibility of Port Sudan and Somaliland. Aid agencies estimate that up to two million metric tons of food must be brought into Ethiopia in 2003 to overcome the current crisis.
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