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Eritrea: Hundreds of Ethiopian prisoners of war return home

29-08-2002 News Release 02/50

Geneva (ICRC) - A group of 279 Ethiopian prisoners of war returned to their country on 29 August under the auspices of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

ICRC/F. de Sury

Eritrea, Mereb. The Ethiopian prisoners of war gather to give back their cards and for a last check.

ICRC/F. de Sury

Eritrea, a bridge over the Mereb river. Last UNMEE (INDBATT-II Indian batallion mission in Eritrea and Ethiopia) check-point.

ICRC/F. de Sury

Eritrea, a bridge over the Mereb river. The now free prisoners of war cross the border bridge, with the help of the INDBATT-II.


This return was announced on 20 August by Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki to ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger in Asmara who welcomed this decisive step towards the release and repatriation of prisoners of war. Immediately, the ICRC sent teams to Nakfa camp in order to work out the practical modalities of the operation with the authorities and to ascertain through private interviews the willingness of each prisoner to return to his country of origin.

ICRC delegates based in Eritrea accompanied the prisoners to a crossing point on the Mereb river between the towns of Adi Quala, on the Eritrean side, and Rama, in Ethiopia. There they were met by ICRC staff based in Ethiopia who handed the released prisoners over to the Ethiopian authorities.

With this release operation, the last prisoners of war registered and regularly visited by the ICRC in Eritrea have been released and repatriated. Pending individual cases of presumed or alleged prisoners not visited by the ICRC will be followed up as required with the Eritrean authorities. Since a peace agreement was signed between Ethiopia and Eritrea in Algiers on 12 December 2000, as many as 997 Ethiopian and 937 Eritrean POWs have been repatriated under ICRC's auspices.

Under the Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war, which was referred to in the Algiers Agreement, all prisoners of war must be released and repatriated without delay after the close of hostilities. The ICRC promotes application of and compliance with the Geneva Conventions and has been entrusted by the Algiers Agreement with supervising the release and repatriation of the prisoners of war.