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Eritrea/Ethiopia: prisoners of war and civilians repatriated

18-02-2002 News Release 02/13

Addis Ababa/Geneva (ICRC) - Today, 18 February 2002, 58 Eritrean prisoners of war (POWs) and 25 Ethiopian POWs were repatriated under the auspices of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). During the same operation two Eritrean civilian internees were repatriated from Ethiopia to Eritrea.

All the released individuals had been registered and visited regularly by ICRC delegates during their captivity at Dedessa (Ethiopia) and Nakfa (Eritrea) internment camps, and all the POWs had expressed the wish to return to their countries of origin.

ICRC delegates based in Ethiopia accompanied the 58 Eritrean POWs and the two civilian internees to a crossing point on the Mereb river between the towns of Rama in Ethiopia and Adi Quala in Eritrea. There they were met by ICRC staff based in Eritrea, who took charge of the released prisoners and handed them over to the Eritrean authorities. At the same time the ICRC delegates based in Eritrea, who had accompanied the 25 Ethiopian POWs to the same crossing point, gave them into the care of the ICRC team on the Ethiopian side, who handed them over to the Ethiopian authorities.

Since the peace agreement was concluded between Ethiopia and Eritrea in Algiers on 12 December 2000, the ICRC has organized the repatriation of 937 Eritrean and 703 Ethiopian POWs. At the time of the signing of the agreement, the ICRC had registered and was visiting some 2,600 Eritrean POWs in Ethiopia and some 1,000 Ethiopian POWs in Eritrea.

The Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions of 1949, relative to the treatment of prisoners of war and the protection of civilians respectively, stipulate that all POWs and civilian internees must be released and repatriated without delay after the close of hostilities. Civilian internees are also entitled to return to their last place of residence. The ICRC, which promotes the application of and compliance with the Geneva Conventions, was entrusted by the Algiers agreement with the task of supervising the release and repatriation of POWs and other persons detained in connection with the conflict. The ICRC will continue to facilitate further repatriations and   urges the Ethiopian and the Eritrean authorities promptly to release and repatriate all remaining POWs and civilian internees.