19 May 2007 04:18

SOMALIA WATCH

 
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  • Title: [SW News](AP) Civilians Flee Advancing Ethiopians
  • From: []
  • Date:  [ Sat, 20 May 2000 01:25:48 ]

Friday May 19 4:37 PM ET
Civilians Flee Advancing Ethiopians
By CRAIG NELSON, Associated Press Writer
ZRON, Eritrea (AP) - Tens of thousands of Eritrean civilians fled advancing
Ethiopian troops and the government struggled to set up camps to house and
feed them Friday, a week after Ethiopia launched an all-out offensive to end
a two-year border war with its neighbor.
U.N. and Eritrean aid officials said Eritrea, a country of 4 million people
in the Horn of Africa, was hovering on the edge of a humanitarian tragedy:
The more than half million people escaping fighting in western Eritrea added
to a drought crisis that already threatened 300,000 others.
Exhausted evacuees, mostly women and children, tumbled out of trucks Friday
to stake out a patch of soil away from the rapidly advancing front, which
lay about 60 miles to the east. One evacuee, 14-year-old Abdullah Ali, sat
surrounded by 3,000 other uprooted Eritreans in a camp that has gone up
overnight.
``I don't know where my parents are,'' the boy said.
The lightning Ethiopian offensive caught Eritreans by surprise, splitting
families as they fled. Ali rushed home when Ethiopian warplanes roared over
Akordat last weekend, but found no one there. He fled the town 35 miles
north of Barentu, then boarded a bus evacuating panicked Eritreans.
``We were playing soccer when the Ethiopian planes started bombing. I left
without my parents,'' said Metker Gebrhiwe, 15.
Ali and Metker are just two of the 550,000 Eritreans the state-run relief
agency says have been forced from their homes by the onslaught of Ethiopian
troops, artillery and warplanes that began May 12. The latest round of
fighting over the 620-mile border began when Ethiopia retook a piece of
disputed territory Eritrea had seized in May 1998.
In the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, the government denied any intention
of taking over recognized Eritrean territory. ``Ethiopia had no designs on
sovereign Eritrean territory in 1993, and it does not have such designs
now,'' an official statement said, referring to the year of Eritrea's
independence from Ethiopia after a 30-year guerrilla war.
By midday Friday, 15 trucks and buses brimming with fleeing Eritreans had
already arrived at this 2-day-old camp stretched across a desolate, rocky
swath of land 10 miles north of Keren. Naizei Woldenu, a regional aid
official, said the camp would reach its 30,000 capacity within days.
With Ethiopian forces already in control of Barentu and Akordat, Keren - 50
miles north of the capital, Asmara - displayed all the trappings of a
front-line city. Eritrean troops in camouflage streamed through the streets.
The manager of the main hotel was said to have locked the doors and left.
Account holders crushed at bank doors to withdraw their money to stock up on
food, or to prepare to flee.
``The enemy could attack at any time,'' Ibrahim Osman said as he fought to
hold his ground among the crowd gathered in front of the local branch of the
Commercial Bank of Eritrea.
Goiton Berke arrived in Keren three weeks ago from Phoenix, Ariz., to visit
his hometown. He ended up consoling his mother and sisters after his
brother, an Eritrean soldier, was killed this week by an Ethiopian artillery
round.
``We are scared to death. We don't know anything,'' Berke said.
On Friday, Ethiopian state television said Ethiopian aircraft had bombed a
military training center in western Eritrea near the Sudanese border as
Ethiopian troops consolidated their control over Barentu. Barentu had been
an important command and control center for the Eritrean army.
There was no immediate comment from the Eritrean government on the latest
bombing report. On Thursday, the Ethiopians said they hit targets near
Eritrea's Red Sea port of Massawa.
In Keren on Friday, scores of dust-covered trucks spilling over with
sandal-shod soldiers trundled through town, away from the front and toward
Asmara. The troop trucks were interspersed with flatbed trucks carrying
missile launchers, tanks, heavy artillery and mobile radar units. They were
headed south toward a second front.
In the barren settlement camp in Zron, meanwhile, the new arrivals started
to slowly piece together a routine, hoping their stay wouldn't be long. The
able-bodied lined up to help unload trucks of wheat from the United States,
dates from Saudi Arabia and milk powder from the Netherlands, while others
washed clothes and stretched them over bushes to dry under the glaring sun.
``I don't know when, but I'll go home,'' 14-year-old Abdella Adris said as
he joined the queue.

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