Eritrea + 2 more

Horn of Africa: IRIN News Briefs, 26 January

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ERITREA: UNHCR allowed to resume operations
The Eritrean government and UNHCR reached agreement on Monday to allow the refugee agency resume operations in the country, from which it was expelled in May 1997 for what Eritrea considered "undue pressure" to revive the stalled repatriation from Sudan of Eritrean refugees who fled their home country during the war of independence with Ethiopia. Monday's agreement, under which the refugee agency will focus on the voluntary repatriation of 147,000 Eritreans registered in refugee camps in Gedaref and El Showak in eastern Sudan, followed a visit to Asmara by UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner Soren Jessen-Petersen, UNHCR spokesman Jacques Franquin told IRIN on Wednesday. Jessen-Petersen had visited to "restore dialogue and discussion" with Eritrea, while the authorities in Asmara had seen "an advantage and interest in this renewed relationship" with UNHCR, Franquin said. Acknowledging that "the new political atmosphere which has been developing between Eritrea and Sudan" had helped matters, and that Khartoum was keen to have the situation resolved, Franquin said "it's time to proceed with the repatriation of these people, who are a bit forgotten." Although the repatriation would be voluntary, the Eritrean refugees - over 10 years in exile - "have to make a choice ... either to integrate in Sudan or to return" because UNHCR cannot continue to accord them refugee status and assist them indefinitely, Franquin said. "The return plan and the pace of the repatriation will be determined by Eritrea's reception capacity," a UNHCR press release stated, adding that two UNHCR staff were scheduled to travel to Eritrea in February to work with the government on a repatriation plan.

ERITREA: Critical food aid rupture narrowly avoided - WFP

A series of recent donor contributions had averted a rupture of the emergency food pipeline for 270,000 displaced people and rural deportees in Eritrea, the WFP said on Friday. "We are most grateful for the recent wave of donations which have arrived just in time to ensure relief aid is provided to displaced and war-affected persons who are in desperate need of food. Our food pipeline was facing a critical break, and we feared that supplies would run out," said Kofi Owusu-Tieku, WFP Emergency Coordinator in Asmara. While the nutritional status of the affected populations had "generally improved," displaced people who had not been able to cultivate their farms during the last agricultural season would continue to depend on food aid until at least the next harvest in December, Owusu-Tieko added. A contribution of 6,641 mt by The Netherlands on Friday followed a series of donations from Japan, the European Union, Germany, Norway, Switzerland, Finland and the US totalling over 25,000 mt in recent weeks.

ERITREA-ETHIOPIA: OAU gets Ethiopian response on "technical arrangements"

Ethiopia on Saturday gave the OAU its response to arrangements for implementing the OAU Framework Agreement intended the end the Ethio-Eritrea conflict, Agence France Presse reported on Monday. "Ethiopian responses to the OAU clarifications have been submitted on Saturday to President Bouteflika in Algiers by the Ethiopian Minister of Foreign Affairs Seyoum Mesfin. There is no comment in regard to the content," AFP quoted government spokeswoman Selome Tadesse as saying. At the end of December the OAU submitted written documents to the Ethiopia government to clarify the technical arrangements for implementing the Framework Agreement. Addis Ababa has rejected the technical arrangements, claiming among other issues that loopholes in the plan could allow Eritrea to avoid fully withdrawing to its pre-war position - the "status quo ante" on which Ethiopia insists - before border demarcation takes place.

ETHIOPIA: Formal start of election campaign announced

The National Electoral Board on Monday announced that eligible candidates for the House of People's Representatives and state councils in the national elections, due on 14 May, could formally begin their campaigns. The electoral board said political hopefuls who had obtained candidacy ID cards had the right to introduce themselves and their objectives "by organising public meetings, distributing leaflets, through advertisements and through other campaigning in a democratic manner," Radio Ethiopia reported. All candidates had the right to make use of the state mass media without charge, and "pertinent bodies" should allow candidates to use appropriate venues for campaigning, it added. However, the law prohibited campaigning in military camps, mosques, churches and academic institutions, as well as in government and public institutions during working hours, the report added. The 'Addis Tribune' reported that the Ethio-Eritrean war dominates the election agenda, with the economy, employment, social services, corruption, equal opportunity and national divisions also among the issues.

SOMALIA: Puntland retaliates for Somaliland expulsions

The Puntland administration on Friday declared that it will not take part in any meeting held in Hargeisa, principal city of the self-declared republic of Somaliland in northwest Somalia, after the deportation under armed escort from Hargeisa last week of a group of Puntland teachers due to attend a training session by the Centre For British Teachers (CFBT). Puntland also refused to take part in a planning workshop in Hargeisa this week for the Somalia component of the EC-funded Pan-African Programme for the Control of Epizotics (PACE), which aims to enhance livestock production and trade through monitoring and controlling major notifiable diseases. The Puntland administration's press release, issued by Information, Post and Telecommunications Minister Awad Ahmed Asharo, also expressed surprise at the EC and UN's support of Somaliland, which it described as secessionist and divisive. Asharo also protested Somaliland's "sending of militiamen to the Sanaag region of Puntland state" on 16 January. Regional observers told IRIN on Wednesday that increasing tensions between Somaliland and Puntland over the disputed territories of Sool and Sanaag underlay the dispute. There was a drift within those regions towards affiliation with Somaliland (not least because Somaliland is in a stronger economic position), which had recently led Puntland to reinforce its militia presence and send high-level delegations to the regions to consolidate its claim on them, diplomatic sources said. It would be hard for the international community to continue to avoid tackling the issue of Sool and Sanaag, as it has so far, because deteriorating relations between Puntland and Somaliland had serious implications for Somalia and, particularly, the Djibouti peace initiative, they added.

SOMALIA: UN representative to assist Djibouti peace initiative

David Stephen, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Representative for Somalia and head of the UN political office for the country, is scheduled to go to Djibouti for two months to help organise a reconciliation conference for Somalia. Stephen is to "advise on the conceptualisation and organisation of the conference," which is part of the Somalia peace initiative of Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh, a UN press release stated on Monday. In supporting Guelleh's efforts, Annan reiterated his view that "the establishment of a central authority based on wide consultations and agreement will be the only way to reach a lasting settlement to the conflict in Somalia." A cultural festival intended to foster a sense of national unity - involving peace and human rights activists, civil society groups and community leaders, but "pretty apolitical" overall - was scheduled to take place before March, as a precursor to the proposed reconciliation conference, a diplomatic source told IRIN on Wednesday. The international community is somewhat divided between wanting signs of progress from the so-called Djibouti initiative and letting Guelleh's peace committee continue "absorbing all the different positions and opinions from key players and civil society" in order to ensure the legitimacy of the process, and increase its odds of success, he added.

SOMALIA: RRA withdraws staffing ultimatum

The Rahanwein Resistance Army (RRA), which controls much of Bay and Bakool regions in south-central Somalia, on Sunday withdrew an ultimatum it had given to UN agencies and international humanitarian NGOs that they should employ only members of the Digle and Mirifle community - and not "outside clans" - in these areas. RRA chairman Hassan Mohamed Nur said, in a letter to UN Humanitarian Coordinator Randolph Kent, that after addressing "genuine complaints" to a UN delegation in the RRA administrative centre of Baidoa, the RRA had withdrawn its ultimatum. The militia group would continue to review and explore with the humanitarian community such issues as the employment of Somali national staff, security of aid agencies' workers and resources, humanitarian assistance and the training of the RRA's newly-appointed administration, the RRA statement added. Meanwhile, a London-based organisation called the Rahanwein Salvation Army (RSA) has said it intends to set up a military and political base in the Bay and Bakool region, and threatened to start fighting if the RRA excluded it from participating in the affairs of the two regions, the Somali 'Qaran' newspaper reported.

SOMALIA: Relief agencies tracking Mogadishu cholera outbreak

Following the confirmation of a cholera epidemic in Mogadishu, indicated by the confirmation of five cases three days in a row, the health relief agency Medecins sans frontieres (MSF) on Saturday, 20 January, opened a cholera treatment centre (CTC) at Forlanini Hospital complex in the north of the city. A second CTC established by Action contre la faim (ACF) in southern Mogadishu has had to be suspended due to security considerations, a humanitarian official told IRIN on Wednesday. MSF head of mission for north Mogadishu, Andre Le Sage, told IRIN on Tuesday it was still too early to indicate the scale of the outbreak - local authorities have claimed there were 27 deaths and some 300 cholera cases in Mogadishu in recent weeks, but as yet there are no robust statistics to support that claim - which is an annual occurrence in this cholera-endemic area, but differs each year in its timing and severity. There were 13 patients at the Forlanini clinic as of Monday night but many more could be expected as news that the clinic had opened became widespread, Le Sage said. Meanwhile, MSF has also confirmed its return to Mudug General Hospital, Galkayo, which it was forced to evacuate after an armed robbery late last year.

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