4 Mar 2010

Ethiopia denies aid spent on weapons

10:38 am on 4 March 2010

Ethiopian authorities and aid agencies have denied a BBC report that millions of dollars of Western aid for victims of the country's 1984-85 famine was siphoned off by rebels to buy weapons.

A senior Ethiopian official said it would have been counter-productive to deny food to starving people.

Humanitarian agency Christian Aid says its initial investigations do not correspond with the BBC's version of events.

One rebel leader estimated $US95 million from Western governments and charities including Band Aid was channelled into the rebel fight.

One former member of the Tigray People's Liberation Front now living in exile in the Netherlands, said he posed as a merchant in meetings with charity workers to get aid money.

They used the cash to fund attempts to overthrow the government of the time, the BBC reports.

The crisis in 1984 prompted a huge Western relief effort, spearheaded by pop star Sir Bob Geldof's Band Aid campaign and Live Aid concerts.

Sir Bob says the reports of aid money misuse are coming from a disgruntled exiled general, not someone connected with the relief organisation, and the claims are rubbish.

In New Zealand, Operation Hope raised about $2 million in aid. Spokesperson Gerard Hill says there's no way any of that money was spent on weapons.

Mr Hill says it was spent only on food, bulldozers and relief materials and that not one dollar would have gone towards purchasing weapons.