Ethiopia-Eritrea: New peace efforts, claims of rights abuse 1998.7.3

Ethiopia-Eritrea: New peace efforts, claims of rights abuse 1998.7.3

ETHIOPIA-ERITREA: New peace efforts amid claims of civilian abuses

NAIROBI, 3 July 1998 (IRIN) A team of African diplomats under the auspices of the OAU left Addis Ababa for Asmara in renewed peace efforts this week, news agencies reported. The group represents the four-nation team mandated by the OAU summit on 10 June in Ouagadougou. The OAU-mandated mediation mission which ended on 19 June failed to break the deadlock and did not succeed in advancing the US-Rwanda peace plan which included a call for Eritrean forces to withdraw. Rwanda yesterday announced its withdrawal from the team to try to break the deadlock, news agencies report.

A UN source told IRIN today the original team's room for manoeuvre was "limited" by the OAU's endorsement of the US-Rwanda plan. It is as yet unclear what new proposals the current mission carries. Another mediation effort from Democratic Republic of Congo leader Laurent-Desire Kabila on Friday was also fruitless, news agencies said. Ethiopia has reiterated its insistence on the four-point US-Rwanda plan, while the Eritrean Assembly last week repeated Asmara's proposals for demilitarising the border area and beginning direct talks between the two sides. New initiatives by the governments of Libya and the Netherlands was reported by media in recent days but no further details are yet available.

The UN Security Council on Friday condemned the use of force in the dispute between the two former allies and demanded an immediate cessation of hostilities. The resolution (1177) also supported the OAU's efforts to defuse the crisis and called on both parties to take confidence-building steps such as "guaranteeing the rights and safety of each other's nationals". AFP reports suggest only two minor clashes have taken place since 11 June.

However, while actual conflict seems to be on hold, little visible progress has been made in bringing Ethiopia and Eritrea back from the brink of renewed conflict, and the war of words conducted in the media shows no signs of letting up.

In the humanitarian sphere, the focus in both countries has been on displacement and the treatment of expatriate civilians. An unknown number of Eritrean civilians have been displaced from their homes within Eritrea, while two UN inter-agency teams assessed the situation in the clash-hit Tigray and Afar regions last week. UN sources told IRIN it was hard to establish exact numbers of displaced people, as people are being taken care of in communities, but that people were still moving out of their areas. Most of the Ethiopian displaced people have been housed in local communities as the government is opposed to the creation of camps, humanitarian sources say. The official 'Ethiopian Herald' however reported that makeshift camps had been set up in some areas. Host communities and social services are under stress in coping with the influx of displaced. The international humanitarian community is expected to give only a "measured" response to needs in Ethiopia, given the extensive response of local communities and institutions, sources close to the team told IRIN.

The Eritrean government has again protested against the alleged mistreatment of its civilians in Ethiopia, while Ethiopia makes similar protests about expulsions, detentions and confiscation of property of Ethiopians in Eritrea. Eritrea's ambassador to the UN on 15 June called for humanitarian intervention to protect the "safety and well-being" of Eritreans in Ethiopia, claiming that thousands of Eritreans were being rounded up.

Another inter-agency assessment is planned to leave Asmara to check on the humanitarian situation in the country. Two inter-agency UN teams are to assess the humanitarian situation in Eritrea, visiting the contested Zala Anbessa and Badme areas this weekend. Eritrea is unlikely to make any early appeal for international assistance for an unknown number of displaced people within its borders, UN sources say.

A spokesman at the Ethiopian embassy in Nairobi this week claimed that 600 Ethiopians were being held in the Eritrean capital, Asmara, while 4,000 had been expelled. An Eritrean news agency statement, received by IRIN yesterday alleges that 6,000 Eritreans have been expelled, and over 1,000 are in detention in Ethiopia. An ICRC spokesperson told IRIN today that the organization has regular access to interned Eritrean civilians and prisoners of war in Ethiopia. She added that requests for access to Ethiopian detainees or prisoners of war in Eritrea had not yet been successful.

Humanitarian sources stressed to IRIN today that it was important not to lose sight of ongoing humanitarian needs in Ethiopia, in particular the fate of four million people faced with serious food shortages.

A senior aid worker told IRIN today humanitarian assistance could be potentially beneficial for the overall economy, but "nobody wants to support the war effort". He stressed the situation was currently under control, but there was a risk of continued or increased displacement as well as disruption to ongoing drough-related relief operations. The capabilities and experience of both governments in managing relief efforts means that a big international presence is unlikely, aid workers said. Support for the war-displaced would be more a case of "plugging the gaps", one relief official told IRIN.


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

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