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The BBC's Cathy Jenkins reports from Sheketi camp
"This camp was one the Eritrean authorities didn't want to publicise"
 real 28k

Thursday, 8 June, 2000, 04:21 GMT 05:21 UK
Eritrea says camps protect Ethiopians
Guard with stick
People at the camp are not free to move as they please
Eritrea has allowed foreign journalists to visit internment camps in which several thousand resident Ethiopians are being housed.

Eritrean Foreign Ministry spokesman Tesfai Ghermazien said the camps were for the Ethiopians' own protection, and people were not being forcibly detained.

Armed guard
Armed guards escort Ethiopians if they leave the camp

"Since we cannot protect every Ethiopian, it may be better to keep them in a place where we can collectively ensure their safety," Mr Tesfai said - implying that Ethiopians might face reprisals as the border war continues.

Ethiopia says that more than 7,000 of the estimated 80,000 Ethiopians living in Eritrea have been forcibly moved to detention camps.

Eritrea has not provided figures on the number of camps or the number of people in them.



The policy has always been: those who wish to stay can stay and those who wish to leave can leave

Tesfai Ghermazien, Eritrean Foreign Ministry spokesman
An Ethiopian diplomat in Asmara said on Monday that military police and local authorities began rounding Ethiopians up at their homes in four Eritrean cities more than a week ago.

Wondimu Degefa said at least 7,529 Ethiopians were being held while Eritrea arranged their deportation.

Visit

Journalists were taken to visit a camp at Sheketi, 20km (12 miles) south of the capital Asmara, where about 2,000 Ethiopians - mainly young men - are living.

The BBC's Cathy Jenkins said the militiamen present at the camp showed that the Ethiopians were not free to come and go as they please.

They could go into the neighbouring village - but escorted by an armed guard.

One man said the police had knocked on his door in the middle of the day and ordered him to come immediately. Another said he had come on his own accord for safety.

Trees
People at the camp live in the open with only trees for shelter

The camp does not have any permanent buildings - trees offer the only shelter from the heat of the sun.

All at the camp say they are ill, most with diarrhoea. The authorities let them go to hospital for medicines.

An elderly woman told reporters: "We are not badly treated but we have nothing to eat. We are dirty and we sleep on the ground like dogs."

The people were taken to Sheketi about 10 days ago.

Register

Mr Tesfai denied that his government was pursuing a policy of compulsory repatriation.

He said an internal memorandum sent out to local authorities saying Ethiopians should register for repatriation was the result of what he called "a communications gap".

"The policy has always been: those who wish to stay can stay and those who wish to leave can leave," he said.

However, Ethiopians living in Eritrea have become more fearful about their safety since Ethiopian forces launched a cross-border advance on 12 May.

Peace talks in Algiers remain stalled and sporadic fighting has been reported over the past few days at several points along the border.

An additional reason for Ethiopians to be nervous about possible reprisals is that they have taken many of the jobs left unfilled by Eritreans who have gone to the front.

Ethiopians are not called up for military service in Eritrea.

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See also:

12 May 00 | Battle in the Horn
Border a geographer's nightmare
06 Jun 00 | Africa
Analysis: Peace eludes Horn
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