President Mengistu Haile Mariam denies his government is using food as a weapon in northern provinces where secessionist insurgencies and crop failures threaten the lives of 3.2 million people.

For the first time, the Ethiopian leader also accused Arab countries of backing the rebel movement. He claimed the Moslem nations want to consolidate their control of the Red Sea.

During Tuesday's six-hour news conference, Mengistu's first with foreign reporters in two years, he also called for better relations with Washington.