IRIN, ETHIOPIA/ERITREA: Appeal for humanitarian situation, 15 Jul 1998

IRIN, ETHIOPIA/ERITREA: Appeal for humanitarian situation, 15 Jul 1998

NAIROBI, 15 July 1998 (IRIN) As mediation attempts intensify to contain the border conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea, the humanitarian consequences of the dispute are beginning to unfold. Over the last week, Eritrea has called on the international community to help over 100,000 people it says have been displaced by the conflict. Ethiopia has put the number of its displaced citizens in northern and eastern areas of the country at around 180,000.

A UN mission report on the situation in affected areas of Ethiopia's Tigray and Afar regions noted the displaced people left with very few personal possessions and had, in addition, lost their means of livelihood. Some of the most urgent needs were for medical care and shelter, particularly now that the rainy season had started in Tigray, the mission report said following the visit in June.

WFP have pointed out that their problem now is to replenish existing food stocks. Local organizations, which distribute the food, have drawn on reserves to feed the displaced people. WFP said food stocks within the country had decreased dramatically from 200,000 mt to 70,685 mt and the next major shipment, through the port of Djibouti, is not expected until September. WFP stresses the need for a streamlined system to ensure the smooth transit of food through Djibouti. Over 40,000 mt of food aid is currently held up at the Eritrean port of Assab.

Meanwhile, the Eritrean Commission for Relief and Refugees last Thursday urged "adequate assistance to Eritrean detainees, deportees and displaced persons". A UN source in Asmara told IRIN that UN teams which assessed the displaced populations in Eritrea broadly confirmed the scale of needs announced by the Eritrean Commission. The UN inter-agency assessment judged that about 90,000 people were completely displaced or returned to their homes only from dusk to dawn thanks to the conflict. Displaced people are being helped by a "strong community support system" including churches and mosques, the source said. Local authorities have allocated up to two hectares of land per family for the use of displaced people. Donor representatives are expected to visit affected areas soon to "see for themselves", the source said.

In addition to the displaced, Asmara claims over 9,000 Eritreans have been deported by Ethiopia. In its latest statement, issued on Monday, the Eritrean government said Ethiopia had begun a second round of "massive arrests" of Eritreans, saying in the past three days 1,400 Eritreans had been detained in Addis Ababa and 420 expelled from Tigray province. It alleged that Eritreans detained in smaller towns were being subjected to "inhumane treatment", a claim strenuously denied by the Ethiopian authorities. Ethiopian government spokeswoman Selome Taddesse confirmed a further 1,000 Eritreans had been detained. According to the spokeswoman, they were members of the Eritrean People's Liberation Front (EPLF) and "it had been proved they were engaged in subversion". She added they were rounded up in different areas of Addis Ababa and could be visited by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

ICRC confirmed to IRIN it has been able to carry out its visits to the Fiche detention camp "in accordance with normal procedures". It said it was making regular trips to the camp, which currently houses 1,138 civilian detainees. ICRC delegates also had access to 163 POWs. However in keeping with ICRC rules, the organisation was unable to comment on conditions of detention. The Ethiopian government has said that expelled Eritreans will be allowed to keep their property and businesses and can nominate agents to act for them, despite assertions by Eritrea that the Ethiopian authorities are seeking to expropriate Eritrean possessions. According to Ethiopian government figures, some 130,000 Eritreans live in Ethiopia.

In a counter claim, Ethiopia alleges 200 of its citizens were deported by Eritrea into Djibouti. On Monday, the Eritrean news agency Erina described the allegations as "pure fabrication". It said the Ethiopians "were not expelled but left of their free will". A news release from the Ethiopian government, received by IRIN, said over 4,000 Ethiopians had been expelled from Eritrea since the start of the conflict in May. But Eritrean officials, speaking to IRIN, denied that Asmara had expelled a single Ethiopian, saying any Ethiopian who left did so "voluntarily". According to the Eritrean officials, there are some 100,000 Ethiopians in Eritrea.

Meanwhile, the Eritrean embassy in Nairobi told IRIN the Ethiopian authorities were "dumping" Eritreans at Moyale on the border with Kenya. By last week, at least 30 Eritreans had arrived in Kenya, a spokesman for the Eritrean community in Kenya told IRIN. On Thursday, a Kenyan foreign ministry statement said a further 11 Eritreans had been left at the border. Eritreans were also fleeing into Kenya of their own accord, the embassy added. UNHCR told IRIN that since mid-June, 190 Eritreans and Ethiopians had arrived in Nairobi and they were currently being assessed on a case-by-case basis. UNHCR noted this was a major increase in asylum-seekers from the two countries compared to previous months.

On Monday, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi paid a one-day visit to Kenya, fuelling expectations that a peace initiative was under discussion.

However, a Kenyan foreign ministry spokesman told IRIN Meles had come solely to discuss the security situation on the Kenya-Ethiopia border with President Daniel arap Moi. "There is no new peace initiative," he stressed, adding that the regional Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) grouping was not involved. Kenya has put its security forces on high alert following reports of infiltration by heavily-armed Ethiopian rebels belonging to the Oromo Liberation Front. Between 700 and 1,000 OLF members have reportedly crossed into Kenya via the border points of Forole, al-Hadi, Dukana and Hurri Hills and are camped out in those areas.

As the uneasy truce continued, but the war of words intensified, Ethiopia announced on Thursday it was increasing its defence budget by about one percent. News organisations pointed out this was the first such increase for seven years. The UN report notes a national campaign to mobilise resources for the displaced has so far raised the equivalent of US $10.9 million, and some national and international NGOs have expressed willingness to contribute towards humanitarian needs. On Tuesday, Italy donated US $100,000 worth of food and medicine to help the war-displaced. But some donor countries have expressed unease over the tense situation, with Germany warning Ethiopia talks on aid would remain suspended until the border conflict was settled. An article in the 'Addis Tribune' quoted German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel as saying "force is not an acceptable means of conducting politics".


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Date: Wed, 15 Jul 1998 18:30:42 -0300 (GMT+3) From: IRIN - Central and Eastern Africa <> Message-ID: <>

Editor: Dr. Ali B. Ali-Dinar, Ph.D

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