Eritrea + 2 more

Horn of Africa: IRIN News Briefs, Friday 3 March

ETHIOPIA: UNHCR to reconsider refugee status
UNHCR will no longer confer automatic refugee status on Ethiopians who fled their country before 1991 under the regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam, the agency said in a statement on Tuesday. Ethiopians in all countries of asylum will be affected, but "UNHCR will assist them if they choose to be repatriated", UNHCR spokesman in Geneva Ron Redmond said. Those who do not, will be screened and continue to be protected under the refugee law only if they can still claim a valid fear of persecution in Ethiopia. Since the country's democratic elections in 1995, the government has declared its willingness to welcome home all refugees who fled under the Mengistu regime, and has committed itself to assisting them reintegrate, Redmond said.

In the 1980s, Sudan hosted more than 500,000 Ethiopian refugees, an estimated 12,000 of whom are still living in camps in the eastern part of the country, the agency said. After an information campaign last December, 3,800 of the refugees applied for voluntary repatriation. UNHCR now says the screening process for those who are "reluctant to return" will start
in the camps in mid-March "to find alternative solutions in accordance with Sudanese immigration law". Redmond said a similar exercise was being carried out in Kenya, which hosts some 3,600 Ethiopians who are mainly integrated into urban areas. Almost one million Ethiopians have returned home from Sudan, Somalia, Djibouti and Kenya in the past 10 years, UNHCR said.

ETHIOPIA: Raging forest fires continue

More than 30,000 hectares of land has been destroyed by raging fires which broke out in Shakiso district, in Borena zone of Oromiya State, southeast Ethiopia over three weeks ago. "The fire is still out of control," counsellor at the Ethiopian embassy in Nairobi, Mengistu Ayalew, said on Friday. "Help from the international community is yet to come." The fire
has caused the deaths of hundreds of animals at the National Park in the Bale Mountains, destroyed forests, electricity poles, residential houses and bee hives. "It is a catastrophe," he told IRIN. The fire is believed to have been started by either farmers who were preparing their lands for cultivation or people looking for wild honey. Mengistu said investigations were underway and several people had been arrested.

ETHIOPIA: Eritreans told to renew residence permits

Ethiopia's Security, Immigration and Refugee Affairs Authority (SIRAA) on Tuesday ordered Eritreans living the country to renew their residence permits for the coming six months, a statement from the authority said. The registration of Eritreans living in Addis Ababa is due to take place between 28 February and 22 March at Ethiopia's Department of Immigration
and Nationality. Those living outside the capital should "appear in person" and register until 8 April, whether at branch offices of the authority or at district police stations, SIRAA said. It also warned that it would take "necessary legal measures" against Eritreans who failed to renew their resident permits. It is estimated that some 150,000-200,000
Eritreans are living in Ethiopia.

ERITREA: Diaspora holds peace rallies

Eritreans in the diaspora on Tuesday held peace rallies to urge the international community to step up its efforts to end the war between their country and Ethiopia. A statement from the rallies' organisers in Canada said it was part of a worldwide effort to call upon the international community to help bring about an end to the "senseless slaughter that now seems to characterise the border conflict". The demonstrations were held in the US, Europe, Africa, Canada and Australia. Among the key demands of the marchers were an immediate ceasefire and a peaceful resolution of the conflict. They also called upon Ethiopia to accept the OAU peace plan.

ERITREA: OAU special envoy leaves Asmara

The Organisation of African Unity's (OAU) special envoy Ahmed Ouyahia left Asmara on Friday after talks with President Isayas Aferwerki and government officials, according to a foreign ministry statement. The statement quoted the envoy as saying the OAU would "continue its search for peace". He expressed confidence that Eritrea, which had formally accepted all three components of the peace plan presented to it by the OAU, would continue to cooperate with the organisation's endeavours. President Isayas said his country "was committed to peace and would continue to cooperate with the OAU". The envoy has now gone to Addis Ababa.

SOMALIA: Puntland authorities ban political meetings

The Puntland regional government recently banned political meetings until June 2001, the region's local newspaper 'Kaaha Bari' said. In a circular dated 17 February, the director-general for international relations Ahmad M. Egal said that "political activities had been banned until June 2001, when the two-year transition period ends". The circular said the move was taken to avert civil war, social unrest and to "ensure that law and order is maintained in Puntland". It warned that workshops and seminars meant to discuss social development should not be turned into political forums.
Organisers of workshops and seminars were further required to submit to the relevant authorities a list of items they wished to discuss 15 days in advance.

SOMALIA: WHO representative visits Mogadishu

A WHO representative, Dr Ajay Kumar Gupta, arrived in Mogadishu on Tuesday to look at polio eradication programmes and other WHO activities. A WHO official in Nairobi told IRIN that although Mogadishu was "not on a normally accessible level", the agency had had a programme office functioning "throughout" in the region with two doctors.

SOMALIA: Aid to Mogadishu "suspended"

Italian special envoy to Somalia, Francesco Sciortino, announced on Thursday that international aid to Mogadishu will be withheld "until security conditions in the Somali capital improve". "Armed confrontations between clans, kidnappings, destruction and sacking of property are preventing law enforcers from helping the population of Mogadishu," the
Italian news agency ANSA quoted Sciortino as telling journalists in Mogadishu. The envoy was in the town with European Commission's Somalia representative Joao Duarte de Carvalho to foster talks and establish peace. They held talks with various politicians, members of civil society and public organisations to discuss the "role of the public in the Djibouti peace conference". Faction leader Hussein Aideed refused to meet the two because "they represent ideas which would not be acceptable to our backers", the Somali 'Qaran' newspaper said.

HORN OF AFRICA: Below-normal rains forecast in east

"Far below normal" rainfall is forecast for the March-May season in eastern parts of the Horn of Africa, according to the Nairobi-based Drought Monitoring Centre. A statement on the findings of a forum held in Tanzania from 9-11 February said there were "enhanced probabilities" for near-normal rainfall conditions over much of the "greater" Horn of Africa.
But in most of Somalia, eastern Kenya and southeastern Ethiopia, below-normal rainfall associated largely with 'La Nina' weather phenomenon was anticipated over the next three months, while normal to below-normal rainfall was most likely for northern Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti. "In some of these areas, the accumulated rainfall deficits may not be offset
even if normal rainfall conditions are experienced," the statement said.


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