Ethiopia has said it will resume a controversial program to move peasants from the drought-prone north to fertile but sparsely populated parts of the southwest.

Berhanu Jembere, the head of the government's Relief and Rehabilitation Commission, told European Community officials on Monday "there was no alternative but to go ahead with relocating people to more fertile regions."The official Ethiopian News Agency quoted Berhanu as saying that more than 600,000 peasants had been resettled so far and they were leading better lives than in their areas of origin.

The resettlement program began during the great drought of 1984-85 but was suspended in 1986 after Western governments and aid agencies protested that the government was using force to move large numbers of peasants into poorly prepared resettlement sites where many were dying.