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Monday, 8 November, 1999, 17:00 GMT
A refugee's story
Abeba Gebre Selassie
Abeba Gebre Selassie: "We had always lived in peace with Eritreans"
The war between Ethiopia and Eritrea has driven people from their homes on both sides of the disputed border. In the last of a series of three reports from Ethiopia, BBC News Online's Justin Pearce speaks to an Ethiopian refugee.

"We had always lived in peace with the Eritreans in our village," recalls Abeba Gebre Selassie.

"We had been living together - we had always been a community. Our people were in love with each other."

Battle in the horn
Abeba no longer lives in her village of Gerhu Serhnu on the Ethiopian-Eritrean border. She fled when war broke out and Eritrea moved its soldiers into the contested district.

She and the other villagers spent months living in caves in the mountains. They now live in shelters made of blue plastic sheeting in a temporary refugee camp.

"We brought whatever we had with us," Abeba says. "We were not really poor."

But where the refugees were once self-sufficient for food, they are now dependent on emergency supplies from the government and foreign donors.

Aged 50, Abeba lived through the era when Eritrea - then part of Ethiopia - and the neighbouring province of Tigray were home to the rebellion against the Dergue - the brutal dictatorship led by Mengistu Haile Mariam.

"Our children and the Eritrean fighters were covered with the same shroud," she says

Trade

Refugee mother and children
Refugees lived in caves before settling in the camp
Even after Eritrea, with the blessing of the new Ethiopian Government, gained its independence, relations remained friendly. People would freely cross the border to trade in the village markets.

"The Eritreans would sell tea-leaves, sugar and paraffin - the Ethiopians were selling grain, goats, honey and butter," Abeba recalls.

"We always sent a delegate to their independence anniversary celebrations."

It was in May 1998, just before the anniversary, that Abeba first realised something was wrong.

"We heard the guns firing - we thought they were celebrating Eritrean independence. But that night they took over four villages.

"For some time we had been seeing Eritrean battalions near our area on the Eritrean side. We never connected this with the fact we were going to be attacked.

"To see tanks rolling into the land of those who fought for Eritrean freedom - that's so hurtful."

Intermarried

Abeba Gebre Selassie
Abeba: "My children are half Eritrean"
One tear rolls silently down each side of Abeba's face.

"I'm terribly hurt because I am one of the ones who intermarried. My children are half Eritrean."

With such close links to Eritreans, Abeba cannot find it in her heart to accuse her former neighbours of warmongering. Instead - like many Ethiopians - she blames the war on the present Eritrean Government.

She is careful to remind us that Eritrean people are also suffering because of the war: "After independence what did they get? One war after another."

"I was always involved in the struggle during the 17 years under the Dergue.

"There is no way I will run away from here. I'm used to fighting back. I lived in caves in the Dergue's time. I will fight on."

Click here to read the first report in this series, in which we visit the Ethiopian front line.

Click here to read the second report in this series, about the plight of Eritrean citizens living in Ethiopia.

See also:

04 Nov 99 | Africa
03 Nov 99 | Africa
29 Oct 99 | Africa
27 Oct 99 | Africa
Links to more Africa stories are at the foot of the page.


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