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Ethiopia/Eritrea: ICRC has repatriated prisoners of war and civilian internees

24-12-2000 News Release 00/50

Geneva (ICRC) - On Sunday, 24 December the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) completed a major operation to repatriate Ethiopian and Eritrean prisoners of war. These people - primarily the sick and seriously wounded - were the first prisoners to be released by the two sides following the Algiers agreement of 12 December. The operation started on 23 December and went smoothly, enabling 360 Ethiopians and 359 Eritreans to return to their home countries, at the end of 3 rotations.

" Most of them knew about the ICRC since we had visited them during their detention " , said Michael Kleiner, an ICRC delegate who was on board the plane that brought the former prisoners home. " However, they didn't really feel free until we had landed. It was only then that they showed their joy and began talking to each other excitedly " .

In addition to flying home Ethiopian and Eritrean prisoners of war, the ICRC repatriated to Ethiopia 1414 civilian internees of Ethiopian origin on the morning of Saturday, 23 December. They had been interned in the Ala camp, not far from Dekemhare, Eritrea. Like the 1'000 Ethiopian civilian internees already repatriated on 9 December, these newly released internees crossed the river Mereb that forms the border between the two countries. ICRC staff based in Addis Ababa and Asmara, aided by volunteers from the Eritrean and Ethiopian Red Cross Societies, accompanied the civilians throughout their journey.