by Timothy Elphick
THE departure of Ethiopian President Mengistu Haile Mariam from his famine-hit country could ease difficulties in transporting relief to the worst affected areas and make peace more likely, the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development said this week.
Richard Miller, CAFOD's Africa projects officer, said President Mengistu's departure meant a better chance of a successful outcome for United States-sponsored peace talks between the Ethiopian government and opposition forces, due to begin in London on Monday.
But it was too early to say whether the door to peace would be opened, Mr Miller said. And he pointed out that the escalation in fighting which had forced Mengistu to flee had also closed the "southern line" for relief supplies to Tigray run by the Joint Relief Partnership (JRP) of Ethiopian churches.
More than eight million people in Ethiopia are believed to be at risk of starvation and disease as the result of drought and war.
Mr Miller said that the London conference on Ethiopia
was an opportunity to stop the country sliding into anarchy. Agreement had to be found for a controlled handover of power to an interim administration, as a prelude to a general election, he said.
Relief supplies should be allowed to pass without restriction from government to rebel-held territory and vice versa, Mr Miller said. He urged all sides to ensure that food convoys could resume Operations along the IRP route to the north at the earliest opportunity.
President Mengistu was believed to have taken refuge in Zimbabwe.
• FIGHTING in Angola's civil war has intensified in the east and north of the country ahead of cease-fire talks between the government of President Jose Eduardo dos Santos and Unita rebels, according to Angelo Simonazzi of CAFOD, recently returned from the country.
Relief agencies such as CAFOD's partner Caritas Angola would be able to reach areas which had been cut off by the war for the first time if agreement was found at the Lisbon peace conference, scheduled for May 31. Mr Simonazti said.