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Wednesday, 2 August, 2000, 14:44 GMT 15:44 UK
Refugees return to Eritrea
Eritrean woman and child
Most of the displaced are women and children
By East Africa correspondent Cathy Jenkins

More than 12,000 Eritreans who fled into Sudan to escape the recent fighting with Ethiopia have returned home within the last week, according to the UN refugee agency.

And from the number of refugees clambering aboard the trucks laid on to ferry them back from Sudan, it appears that many are desperate to get home.

Nearly 80,000 people escaped across the border in May and June, when Ethiopian troops advanced into Eritrean territory in an escalation of the two-year-old border war.

After a month of fighting a cessation of hostilities agreement was signed under which both sides agreed to the setting up of a 25km buffer zone inside Eritrea and the deployment of United Nations observers.

Safe word

A UNHCR spokesman said that as soon as the refugees got word from other family members that it was safe to go back to their homes and farms, they were going.

Eriteans fleeing Ethiopian attack
Displaced: Many were forced from their homes
Those more reluctant to leave the camps, the spokesman said, were women whose husbands are away in the army and some young men worried that if they do go back they will be drafted.

Even with so many people wanting to return home, there are still many Eritrean refugees in Sudan, housed in three camps.

The Eritreans fled their homes in western Eritrea when Ethiopian troops launched a massive offensive in May in an attempt to end the two-year border war.

As well as fleeing across the border, hundreds of thousands of Eritreans are now living in displaced camps within the country.

The west of Eritrea is considered very important, because it is a rich agricultural area which produces a lot of the country's staple food.

To help the refugees returning there, the aid agencies are handing out two months' supply of food rations.

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See also:

12 Jul 00 | Africa
Half of Eritrea needs aid
15 Jun 00 | Africa
UN highlights Horn crisis
17 Apr 00 | Africa
Famine threat across the Horn
31 Mar 00 | Africa
Is aid really helping?
13 Jul 00 | Africa
Eritreans return from Ethiopia
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