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Thursday, 13 July, 2000, 19:23 GMT 20:23 UK
Eritreans return from Ethiopia

More than 100 Eritreans formerly resident in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, have returned to Eritrea - apparently the first such group to have crossed the border since the recent ceasefire.

About 160 Eritreans left Addis Ababa last Thursday by road, and crossed the border on Monday to arrive in the southern Eritrean town of Mendefera.

Eritrean radio said the people had been deported, but aid agency sources say they were people who were voluntarily returning to Eritrea.

Before the war, Addis Ababa had a substantial Eritrean population, but this has been diminished both by deportations and by voluntary repatriations.

The recent returnees are understood to have taken a considerable risk in the crossing of the Mereb river which forms the border at that point.

The current rainy season has swollen the river and destroyed a bridge.

Most of the Eritreans living in Addis Ababa had moved to the city during the years when Eritrea was incorporated into Ethiopia, and there was a better living to be earned in the national capital.

Even after Eritrean independence, thousands of Eritreans remained in Ethiopia, enjoying the same rights as Ethiopian citizens.

Deportations

But at the start of the war, Eritreans were made to carry identity documents identifying them as resident aliens.

An estimated 50,000 Eritreans were deported. The Ethiopian Government says it only deported those whose presence was a threat to Ethiopian security, but humanitarian workers say that many innocent people were forced to leave against their will.

Eritreans have also complained of harassment and discrimination following the outbreak of war - and this prompted many to seek voluntary repatriation.

Several hundred were repatriated under the supervision of the International Committee of the Red Cross late last year, during a long lull in the fighting.

But the resumption of fighting in May made it impossible for civilians to cross the border until very recently.

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See also:

12 Jul 00 | Africa
Half of Eritrea needs aid
04 Nov 99 | Africa
Plight of the stranded Eritreans
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