Forest fires which broke out 22 days ago in the Borena and Bale regions of Oromiya state, southeast Ethiopia, are still blazing uncontrollably. "It has become worse in some areas," the head of Ethiopia's natural resources department in the agriculture ministry, Tamiru Habte, said on Friday. He told IRIN that although the fires were being contained in some areas, dry and windy weather conditions "were aiding their spread" in others. Tamiru said more fire-fighting crews and a spotter plane were expected from South Africa on Friday night. The 21-member team would be deployed to help bring under control about 200 fires which are said to have destroyed some 2,200 sq km of land. Tamiru stressed the operation was still in dire need of tools and food assistance for the fire fighters. "A friend in need is a friend indeed, " he said. [See also separate IRIN story "Raging fires wiping out wildlife, property": http://www.reliefweb.int/IRIN/cea/countrystories/ethiopia/20000308.htm]
ETHIOPIA-ERITREA: US envoy says "additional mediation" needed
US special envoy and Secretary of State Anthony Lake, who is shuttling between Ethiopia and Eritrea, has said "additional mediation" is needed to secure the two countries' mutual acceptance of the OAU's 'Technical Arrangements' peace document. US State Department spokesman James Rubin quoted him as saying that consensus was reached on "some" of the provisions of the document. Both Eritrean President Isayas Afewerki and Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi reportedly reaffirmed their confidence in the OAU's mediation process, and their commitment to seeking a peaceful resolution to the conflict. The US government urged both countries to remain "fully engaged" in the OAU peace process.
ETHIOPIA: Planned modification of peace document hailed
Ethiopia has welcomed the results of the latest shuttle diplomacy undertaken by Lake and OAU special envoy Ahmed Ouyahia to the two warring countries. "We are very happy that the two envoys understood why we had reservations with the 'Technical Arrangements' document," Counsellor at the Ethiopian embassy in Nairobi Mengistu Ayalew told IRIN on Friday. "It is a positive development and gives a chance for a peaceful resolution of this conflict." He reiterated Ethiopia's position that the document as it stands is "full of ambiguities". "Ethiopia is very happy that after continuous and thorough discussions, the two envoys agreed that the document should be adjusted to address our concerns," he said, adding it was unfortunate that Eritrea disagreed with this "positive development".
Eritrea had accepted the original 'Technical Arrangements' document, but Ethiopia said it did not "fully guarantee a return to the status quo ante", as it was "silent" on the specific areas to be evacuated by Eritrea.
ERITREA: Ethiopia accused of "complete turnaround"
The Eritrean foreign ministry on Thursday castigated Ethiopia for "reneging" on the peace agreement. The Eritrean news agency (ERINA) quoted the foreign ministry permanent secretary, Tesfai Ghermazien, as saying Ethiopia's call to amend the document was a "complete turnaround". "Ethiopia's Prime Minister told mediators that a non-amendable plan must be presented to both countries which must then be held to its implementation," Tesfai said. "They insisted on a detailed plan of implementation which could not be amended."
HORN OF AFRICA: Possible famine by July
The US Agency for International Development (USAID) has warned of "potential famine" in the Horn of Africa. Addressing a US State Department meeting this week, USAID representatives said 15 million people in six countries - Ethiopia, Kenya, Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan and Djibouti - were at risk due mainly to drought. Eight million of these were in Ethiopia alone. The current food shortages could not be defined as famine, but if the international aid effort was not sufficient, the world could be looking at another famine by July or August, similar to that of 1984, the USAID officials warned.
SOMALIA: Political leaders meet in Libya
Three of Somalia's main political leaders were in Libya for talks, ahead of a UN-backed conference on Somali reunification next month, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) reported on Thursday. The three - Mogadishu faction leader Hussein Aideed, the self-declared Somaliland leader Mohamed Egal, and Puntland's leader Abdullahi Yusuf - are opposed to the peace plan on which the conference is based, which stresses Somalia's territorial integrity. The BBC said the gathering in Tripoli came a day after Egal had reportedly refused to meet the UN representative to Somalia, David Stephen, who had travelled to Hargeisa for the appointment. Thousands of people in Hargeisa demonstrated against the plan last month after the local parliament declared that anyone who attended the conference would be considered a traitor.
ETHIOPIA: OAU facing economic straits
The overall financial situation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) has not improved, despite efforts to make resources available, officials said. An OAU council of ministers meeting in Addis Ababa this week reviewed the organisation's financial and administrative matters and observed that for the second successive year, contributions had been less than half the total assessment required. "This implies that by the month of January this year, only nine member states had made their contributions in full for the current budget season," OAU's acting press chief Desmond Orjiako told IRIN on Friday. These countries are Senegal, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Mauritius and Mozambique. He said eight member states were under sanctions for not paying their dues, namely the Central African Republic (CAR), the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Comoros, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Sao Tome & Principe and Seychelles. "We do understand the very hard economic issues in various countries, but we have also provided member states with avenues to be able to pay," Orjiako said. The arrears were standing at US $58.3 million, he added.
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