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Eritrea and Ethiopia Ready Prisoner Exchange - 2002-08-26

Eritrea and Ethiopia are preparing to exchange hundreds of prisoners of war held since their two year long border war ended in 2000. The prisoner of war issue has stood in the way of improved relations between Eritrea and Ethiopia for some time. But Red Cross chief Jakob Kellenberger says he succeeded last week in securing an agreement from the leaders of both countries to resolve this last issue of the bitter border war. "Under international humanitarian law, those prisoners of war and civilian internees, they should have been released and repatriated for quite some time," he said. "So I think the real important element is what you call the firm commitment of both [Eritrean] President [Isaias] Afewerki and [Ethiopian] Prime Minister Meles [Zenawi] to proceed with the release and repatriation."

The Red Cross says that Eritrea is to begin releasing more than 300 Ethiopian prisoners of war and 200 civilian detainees on Tuesday. But it is expected to take two more days before they get to the border.

It says that more than 1,600 Eritrean prisoners of war and civilian detainees are still waiting for Ethiopia to set the date for their release.

Red Cross chief Jakob Kellenberger says he is optimistic their situations will be resolved soon. "On the basis of the discussion I had with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, I think also in that case release and repatriation will take place soon. I have good reason to believe that movement will take place soon. I do not think anybody will play on time," he said.

Returning the prisoners forms a key part of the cease-fire deal reached at the end of 2000. Although a new boundary was demarcated in April, tensions have remained high between Ethiopia and Eritrea with memories still raw of the border war that claimed more than 70,000 lives.