Ethiopia denies using food aid for repression

Ethiopia Prime Minister Meles Zenawi
Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi speaks to the media at his office in Addis Ababa, April 13, 2009.

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (Reuters) – Ethiopia rejected on Thursday claims by a rights group that it manipulates food and other aid to clamp down on opposition parties.

New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report on Tuesday that it had documented cases of opposition supporters in rural areas being denied emergency food aid and access to a long-running food-for-work scheme.

Both schemes are foreign-funded and HRW said donors, including the United States and Britain, were shutting their eyes to repression.

“Aid is not wasted in Ethiopia and is distributed effectively to all who require it,” the Ethiopian foreign ministry said in a statement. “Income distribution is graced with fairness and justice.”

The government statement said the World Bank, the IMF and the United Nations had verified the fairness of aid distribution in Ethiopia.

“Our previous efforts to engage with HRW have been met with contempt,” the statement said. “The organisation seems bent on undermining the democratic process in Ethiopia.”

Ethiopia is one of the world’s largest recipients of foreign aid, receiving more than $3 billion in 2008, according to HRW.

Ethiopia is a key Western ally in the Horn of Africa, where it is seen as a bulwark against militant Islamism. It also wants to attract foreign investment in large-scale farming and oil and gas exploration.

The rights group said that repression of the opposition was ramped up ahead of the ruling party’s overwhelming election victory in May.

The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front and allies won 545 seats in the 547-member parliament in a vote that was criticized by the United States and the European Union.