UPDATE: The African Famine

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

With famine somewhat eased in Ethiopia, Marxist military government is cracking down on about 1 million farmers -- at gunpoint. United States and other aid donors are alarmed, unhappy, wondering how to react. Farmers in Bale (south), Shewa (north), and Harerge (east) being forced to dismantle their homes, pick up pieces and walk 30 kilometers (18 miles) and more to new, larger villages closely regulated by Communist Party (official name: Workers Party of Ethiopia, or WPE).

Sources say some who resisted have been shot and killed.

Plan is called ``villagization.'' Aims to gather scattered villages into central units. Ethiopian officials say it is ``to increase security, to raise living standards, and to make it easier to teach farmers Marxism-Leninism.''

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Replies one Western official, ``It's social engineering.'' Says another, ``Government toughening up now that famine emergency past its worst point.

``Mengistu [Ethiopian military-Marxist leader Lt. Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam] has done this before, but always in name of development and aid. What's new now: the WPE, the party, is doing it. It's all to strengthen Party control.''

Various sources in global aid community give these details:

Traditional living patterns disrupted. Party decrees neat rows of houses larger than farmers accustomed to. From 50 to 100 houses in each village. Livestock no longer allowed inside in name of hygiene. In principle that's good, but Western aid workers say it's all being rushed. Without heat from livestock at night, people freezing in larger quarters. Extra trees chopped down to build larger houses, leading to erosion, lack of firewood.

Harvesting blocked as farmers forced to leave land at gunpoint.

At same time, another program moving into high gear: re-settlement. So far 600,000 farmers from Eritrea, Tigr'e in north to southern regions. First, people flown in unpressurized Soviet aircraft. Now in trucks and buses.

Colonel Mengistu says northern highlands uninhabitable, so farmers must be moved for own sake. US says move blatantly political: to weaken Eritrean, Tigr'ean guerrilla forces still waging Africa's longest civil war to secede.

New reports: Villages for people coming south built by inexperienced university students in west Gojam Province. Sites too low, overrun by recent rains, now unhygienic. Roofs leak. Not enough food. In ``showplace'' camp for northerners in Gambela on Sudan border in east, visitors note many Tigr'eans still wearing heavy sweaters (their only clothes) despite intense heat. Much malaria. Biggest building: party headquarters.

Ethiopian notes: Grain shortages in 1986 almost 1 million tons. Donors trying drum up cash to buy surplus grain from good-rain areas, move it to poorer areas.

Aid workers urge Mengistu to give top priority to feeding hungry. Mengistu insists preserving security comes first (and also helps long-term development).

RAF flights: After 300 days and 3,260 flying hours, British Royal Air Force just ended air-dropping and transporting grain in Ethiopia. Planes moved 31,907 tons grain: aid officials applaud. West German Air Force also pulling out now. End of airlift means more pressure on UN World Food Program truck fleet running south from Assab.

Question of the week: Where is chief Ethiopian relief official, Dawit Wolde Giorgis?

Not seen since visiting US, then Brussels, late November to raise money, aid. As head of Ethiopian Relief and Rehabilitation Commission, he was charged with drought relief. Dozens of donor countries, agencies want meetings with RRC on aid plans for next year.

Dawit, a former governor of Eritrea (accused by sympathizers of Eritrean cause of having ``blood on his hands'').

Addis Ababa indicating Dawit on ``official mission.'' But Western sources say:

RRC clearly been losing influence as Party steps in, organizes villagization, resettlement. Dawit being overruled by ideological hard-liners.

Dawit's brother defected in New York in September.

Dawit said to have friends in US. Political asylum? State Department says, ``No comment.'' Could be another sign of tougher Marxist approach in Addis.

Sudan: Aid insiders say European Community allocating $7 million to buy surplus grain for transport to far western Darfur, Kordofan.

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