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Eritrea-Ethiopia: Humanitarian activities within the framework of the Geneva Conventions

08-10-1998 News Release 98/40

Relations between Eritrea and Ethiopia have remained tense since hostilities broke out in May 1998, and the ICRC has continuously maintained its assistance to those affected by the conflict situation. In Eritrea, following its visit to a group of prisoners of war immediately before their repatriation to Ethiopia at the end of August, the ICRC has started to visit civilian internees in various places of detention. It is pursuing its efforts to gain access to all prisoners of war. In Ethiopia, the ICRC has continued its regular visits to all prisoners of war and to civilian internees.

A network has been established for the exchange of family news between interned persons and their relatives; to date, some 700 Red Cross messages have thus been delivered in and between Ethiopia and Eritrea. The ICRC is also actively involved in reuniting unaccompanied minors with their parents.

In its capacity as a neutral humanitarian intermediary, since early August the ICRC has ensured safe passage for Eritrean and Ethiopian civilians across the front lines. Eighteen such crossings have been organized so far. Furthermore, it has regularly brought up recurrent humanitarian problems with the relevant authorities.

The Ethiopian Red Cross Society and the Red Cross Society of Eritrea are also engaged in assisting the victims of the conflict in cooperation with the ICRC. In response to the needs assessed on both sides, they have provided support for ambulance services, delivered supplies to medical facilities and first-aid material to Red Cross volunteers and distributed blankets, jerrycans, cooking pots, kitchen sets and other basic necessities. Further programmes are being worked out to prepare for all eventualities.

Following the outbreak of hostilities, the ICRC officially opened an office in Eritrea in August 1998 and is now endeavouring to protect and assist the victims of this international armed conflict in accordance with its mandate and to foster implementation of the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions. The ICRC's standard working procedures include confidential relations with the authorities concerned.