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Friday, 23 August, 2002, 11:57 GMT 12:57 UK
Ethiopia, Eritrea to free all PoWs
Ethiopian militiamen
Both sides are holding hundreds of prisoners of war

The Eritrean and Ethiopian Governments have said they are to release all prisoners of war.

The announcement came during a visit to the two countries by the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Jakob Kellenberger.

Eritrea and Ethiopia signed a peace agreement in December, 2000, following two years of fighting, but few prisoners of war have been released by either side, making relations between the two countries extremely strained.

Although Eritrea has already agreed to release more than 300 Ethiopian prisoners of war, until now the Ethiopian authorities have been far more reluctant to allow their detainees to go free.

Missing pilot

The Ethiopian Government had said it would not consider returning prisoners of war until it was informed of the whereabouts of one of its fighter pilots, Bezabeh Petros, who was paraded through the streets of the Eritrean capital Asmara after bailing out of his war plane four years ago.

Jakob Kellenberger
Kellenberger visited Ethiopia and Eritrea

But now Ethiopia appears to have accepted that Colonel Petros is a special case, and despite the fact that he remains unaccounted for, the country has agreed to repatriate more than 1,300 Eritreans captured during the two-year border war.

The BBC's Nita Bhalla in Addis Ababa says Ethiopia is also demanding to know about 73 Ethiopian militia and police who were allegedly captured by the Eritrean army and who are still unaccounted for.

"We still believe that we have the right to know the whereabouts of our citizens, but we will no longer hold this as a condition," Bereket Simon, Ethiopia's Minister of Information, said.

Ethiopia made its announcement during a visit to Addis Ababa by the ICRC president.

However, our correspondent in Addis Ababa says Ethiopia has not given a date for the release of the Eritrean PoWs.

Mr Kellenberger had visited both the Eritrean President, Isaias Afewerki, and the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, to remind them of their obligations under the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions and their own peace agreement, signed in Algiers in December, 2000, to free all prisoners.

The ICRC has agreed to oversee the repatriation programmes.

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 ON THIS STORY
Nita Bhalla reporting for Focus on Africa
"We want to have a clean sheet as far as PoWs are concerned"

Border decision

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20 Aug 02 | Africa
13 Aug 02 | Africa
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