No train has left this rubble-strewn Red Sea port since it was besieged three years ago by Eritrean rebels at the height of the civil war that has been raging in this northwest territory since the early 1960s.
Railway boxcars, some of them overgrown with weeds, stand forlornly amid torn tracks and wrecked signal posts. Ghostlike houses, banks, and shops with caved-in roofs and shell-pocked walls shimmer in the dry desert heat.
Only the old Italian colonial buildings on the port island, connected with the mainland by a causeway, have escaped much damage. It was here that Cuban and Sovietbacked government forces made their stand, eventually pushing back the Eritrean guerrillas with superior tactics, firepower, and equipment.
The Soviets reportedly are constructing a naval base on the Dahlak Island 30 miles off Massawa to replace lost facilities at Berbera in neighboring Somalia.
A few inhabitants still live among the ruined buildings.Most, however, have sought refuge in shanties of corrugated iron on the outskirts. A considerable number have fled to Sudan or have moved to other Ethiopian towns. To prevent looting, the belongings of Massawa's missing citizens have been stacked in the old market hall.
To help its more than 4 million destitute war, drought, and famine victims, Ethiopia is seeking nearly $2 billion worth of foreign rehabilitation and reconstruction assistance over the next three years. Ethiopia hopes to publicize its plight, particularly regarding returnees from Sudan and Somalia, at the Geneva International Conference on Assistance to Refugees in Africa next April.
Government officials optimistically forecast that improved relations between Sudan and Ethiopia will encourage up to 250,000 Eritreans to return home from Sudanese refugee camps. Similarly, the Ethiopians expect increasing numbers of nomads in Somalia, whom they claim have been forcibly moved across the frontier by retreating somali troops and rebel groups, to come back.
So far, slightly more than 3,000 Eritreans have accepted a government amnesty to quit the guerrillas or the refugee camps in Sudan. Several so-called reorientation camps have been set up around Humera and Gondar to deal with the returnees. At present, these camps are no more than Marxist-Leninist reeducation camps.