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Thursday, 29 August, 2002, 07:39 GMT 08:39 UK
Eritrea to release Ethiopian prisoners
Ethiopians flee an attack in 1998
More than 70,000 people died in the war

Some 300 Ethiopian prisoners held by Eritrea will be repatriated on Thursday at a border crossing on the Mereb River.

Ethiopian militiamen
More than 300 Ethiopians were captured
They will be handed over to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) as the start of an exchange of prisoners captured during a two-year border conflict between the two countries.

More than 1,300 Eritrean prisoners still held by Ethiopia could be freed within a week, according to an ICRC spokesman in Eritrea, Marcel Izard.

"I cannot tell you the date exactly, but we think it might happen in the next week," Mr Izard told the BBC.

Peace deal

The exchange is part of a peace agreement signed in December 2000, following a conflict in which 70,000 soldiers died.

The handover of prisoners had not been implemented because of continuing tension between the two governments.

During a visit to both countries earlier this month by the president of the ICRC, Jakob Kellenberger, the two governments agreed to release the prisoners.

'Generally fine'

Eritrea's Ethiopian prisoners have already left the prison camp where they have been kept since the peace agreement was signed, the ICRC said.

Mr Izard said they had been given new clothing and any medical treatment they needed, adding that their "condition was generally fine".

Jakob Kellenberger
Kellenberger visited Ethiopia and Eritrea
The ICRC will oversee the handover of the prisoners to Ethiopia at the border, which is now monitored by UN peacekeepers and subject to a 25-kilometre buffer zone.

Plans to hand over PoWs had been bogged down in disputes over some allegedly missing Ethiopian prisoners.

They include a pilot who had been paraded through the streets of the Eritrean capital of Asmara after his capture.


Border decision

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23 Aug 02 | Africa
20 Aug 02 | Africa
13 Aug 02 | Africa
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