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  • Title: [SW News]Johannesburg (UN Integrated Regional Information Network) Horn Of Africa: Irin News Briefs
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  • Date:  [Friday, May 26, 2000 4:11 PM EST ]

Horn Of Africa: Irin News Briefs

Story Filed: Friday, May 26, 2000 4:11 PM EST

Johannesburg (UN Integrated Regional Information Network, May 25, 2000) - The Eritrean army withdrew its forces from Zala Anbesa on the central front of the Ethiopia-Eritrea conflict on Wednesday night, announcing that it was pulling out of all disputed areas in compliance with calls from the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).

"Eritrea stated its readiness to respond immediately and favourably to the two-point appeal of the current chairman of the OAU, namely the immediate cessation of the fighting and the resumption of the proximity talks," a government press release stated. Accordingly, from midnight on 25 May, Eritrea would begin the "redeployment" of its forces to positions held before 6 May 1998, it said. Eritrea insisted that this did not amount to a surrender, presidential spokesman Yemane Gebremeskel told journalists in Asmara: "Things are not what they appear on the ground. Ethiopia is gaining territory but losing the war."

Speaking at a press conference in Asmara, Eritrean Foreign Minister Haile Woldensae confirmed that Eritrea was withdrawing its forces from all areas occupied after 6 May 1998, included Tsorona and Bure. He also insisted that the Eritrean withdrawal was not a defeat. Asked about a large number of Eritrean soldiers reported to have fled the fighting into Sudan, he said: "There are individuals who want to escape war... but the issue of soldiers running to Sudan and surrendering to the Sudanese is not the case."

ETHIOPIA/ERITREA: Addis Ababa says war not yet over

Ethiopia on Thursday dismissed Eritrean claims of having withdrawn for tactical reasons, saying its forces had been routed by the Ethiopian army. "As we speak, our defence forces are chasing and destroying the fleeing Eritrean army," Ethiopian government spokeswoman Selome Tadesse stated. An Ethiopian government statement said air and ground forces had liberated Zala Anbesa "after completely annihilating the Eritrean army that was on the verge of collapsing yesterday." Tadesse told the BBC that the war would continue until Eritrea withdrew from "every inch of occupied Ethiopian territory". She said Eritrean forces still occupied Ethiopian territory near Bure, on the eastern front. In Addis Ababa, thousands of people took to the streets to celebrate the country's taking of Zala Anbesa, news agencies reported.

ETHIOPIA/ERITREA: Zala Anbesa "completely destroyed"

The disputed border town of Zala Anbesa, at the centre of the latest heavy fighting between Ethiopian and Eritrean forces, was "completely destroyed" before the Eritreans withdrew their forces on Wednesday night. An IRIN reporter who visited the town on Wednesday said that not a single building was left intact. While shells were landing in and around the town, the bombardment did not appear to be the cause of the damage: the town looked as if it had been systematically bulldozed, the reporter stated. Apart from Eritrean troops, the town was deserted. Hundreds of families were living in tents at a camp for the displaced set up in the nearby town of Senafe.

ETHIOPIA/ERITREA: Annan welcomes withdrawal announcement

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Wednesday welcomed Eritrea's acceptance of the OAU appeal to withdraw from the contested areas, and called on Ethiopia to do likewise. In a statement issued in New York, Annan urged the Ethiopian government "to respond positively to the OAU appeal, in order to bring about an immediate end to the hostilities, restore the status quo ante of 6 May 1998 and pave the way for a durable settlement of this tragic conflict".

ETHIOPIA/ERITREA: OAU chairman in Asmara for peace talks

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, current chairman of the OAU, arrived in Asmara on Thursday for talks on the conflict with President Isayas Afewerki, Eritrean radio reported. It gave no further details. Bouteflika flew to the Eritrean capital from Addis Ababa, where he had talks with Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. Eritrea said on Thursday it had fulfilled its side of a deal proposed by the OAU to withdraw troops and it was now the responsibility of Ethiopia to restore peace. "We have done more than enough. I fail to see anything more we can do," presidential spokesman Yemane told Agence France Press (AFP).

In its latest appeal to the two sides, the OAU appeared to have dropped a clause on technical arrangements for the implementation of its Framework Agreement. These included both parties' acceptance of a commission to determine redeployment positions, the establishment of a peacekeeping mission and agreement by the parties to cease all military activities and all forms of expression likely to sustain and exacerbate the climate of hostility. The latest OAU statement reiterated its call to both parties to put an end to the hostilities, to commit themselves to a peaceful solution based on the OAU Framework Agreement and to resume proximity talks.

ERITREA: Food convoy leaves for western Eritrea

Five WFP trucks left Asmara on Thursday morning carrying 77 mt of high- protein biscuits to feed some 39,000 displaced people in western Eritrea. The trucks were heading for Teletabasher, close to the Sudanese border; Dige, near Gash Barka in the southwest; and Goluj, south of Teseney, the agency said. They were expected to take three days to reach their destination. "This is a stop-gap measure until such time we can identify where people are resettling," after which the agency would concentrate on getting sustainable supplies of maize, flour, sugar and salt to affected populations, WFP spokeswoman Lindsey Davies told IRIN. Davies said there was particular concern about longer-term food supplies in Eritrea. The regions of Dibub and Gash Barka, which normally provided 80 percent of Eritrea's grain had been hit by two years of drought and were now affected by the war, she said. Last year's harvest amounted to only 10 percent of normal annual production. Humanitarian agencies are also concerned about the danger of land mines to civilians returning home in the wake of the war. Reporters who went to Barentu with the invading Ethiopian army said the town had been mined.

Meanwhile, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) said on Wednesday it would provide $500,000 in emergency assistance to provide shelter and other supplies to war-displaced people in Eritrea. The supplies - tents, blankets and water jugs - were expected to arrive in Asmara on Friday in a chartered flight from Italy, AFP quoted a USAID statement, released in Washington, as saying.

ETHIOPIA: Nutritional problems in Imi, Gudis

The food crisis in the Ogaden Region has prompted Medecins sans frontieres (MSF) to set up a new therapeutic feeding centre in Imi East, about 200 km northwest of the regional capital Gode, where around 3,500 inhabitants and displaced people are living, the health NGO said in a statement on Thursday. A rapid nutritional assessment had revealed global malnutrition rates of 42 percent, including 23 percent severe malnutrition, in Gudis - 50 km to the east of Imi - among children under five years, it said. In Denan, 50 km north of Gode, there were 556 children under five registered for intensive, therapeutic feeding and 1,612 more registered for a supplementary feeding programme, the agency said.

A mission to Imi/Gudis at the start of May had found 2,000 to 3,000 displaced people in a population of about 10,000. The displaced, nomads for the most part, had been collecting in the area for the last six months or so having lost their cattle, and a majority were women and children, MSF said. The local and displaced population were suffering as a result of recent rain and flooding, while there was also an increasing risk of diarrhoea, infectious diseases and malaria in the coming weeks and months, it added. Up to 180,000 people in the Gode region were completely dependent on humanitarian aid, according to estimates quoted by MSF. In the northern region of Tigray, meanwhile, Ethiopia's hostilities with Eritrea meant MSF no longer had access to its surgical project at Adigrat but it was still targeting 75,000 IDPs for sanitation facilities and hygiene information, it said.

SUDAN: Emergency food programme for Eritrean refugees

WFP announced on Thursday that it was launching a $3.4 million emergency feeding programme in Kassala state in the east of the country for up to 50,000 refugees from the fighting in neighbouring western Eritrea. WFP said approximately 15,000 people had crossed the border in the past week and that 35,000 more were on their way across the border. "They are arriving weak, tired and in shock. Their health will deteriorate rapidly if we don't quickly help them," said Mohamed Zejjari, WFP Regional Director for Africa. UNHCR reported on Wednesday it was making preparations for the same number. In Nairobi, International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) spokeswoman Caroline Hurford told IRIN on Thursday that it and the Sudanese Red Crescent (SRCS) had launched a preliminary appeal for $795,000 to assist up to 80,000 people that the authorities believe could eventually arrive in Sudan. She said the refugees, mainly women, children and the elderly, were in reasonably good health, but many had brought very little with them. Their immediate needs had been identified as water, sanitation, shelter, food and medical supplies, Hurford said.

SOMALIA: Polio vaccination round ends in Mogadishu

Four new cases of polio were positively identified in Benadir region, in which Mogadishu is situated, in March and April, lending a degree of urgency to the three-day WHO and UNICEF polio vaccination programme completed in Mogadishu on Wednesday, a UN official told IRIN on Wednesday. Those four cases bring to 11 the number of cases in Mogadishu alone since December, which was quite alarming, the official added. After talks in Merka to explain to elders the seriousness of the situation, the vaccination programme - targeting 200,000 children under five years in Mogadishu - went ahead with the full participation of the community and the agreement of Somalia's clans and factions, a WHO official added. It is proposed to have another round in the Mogadishu vaccination campaign in June. The team working on this week's exercise, supervised by Dr Gianfranco Rotigliano of UNICEF and Dr Najivullah Mojadidi of WHO, had enjoyed considerable freedom of movement in the city and enjoyed the peaceful manner in which the programme was completed, according to media reports from Somalia.

This item is delivered by the UN's IRIN humanitarian information unit (e- mail: irin@ocha.unon.org; fax: +254 2 622129; Web: http://www.reliefweb.int/IRIN), but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations. If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer.

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