Home | News    Thursday 11 November 2004

Eritreans working for UN mission rounded up over military service

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ASMARA, Nov 11 (AFP) — Eritreans working for the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) have been included in a roundup in Eritrea of people said to have avoided military service, an UNMEE spokeswoman said Thursday in Asmara.

"Some Eritreans from UNMEE staff have been included in the recent roundups," spokeswoman Gail Bindley-Taylor Sainte told a press conference in the Eritrean capital.

"It happened in the region of Barentu (West), where a few have been released, but others remain detained," she added, pointing out that such roundups occur regularly in Eritrea.

"It is not the first time that Eritrean UNMEE staff have been caught in these roundups. We sent a letter (to the authorities) sometime ago explaining the rights that the local staff have and hope those rights will be respected," she stressed.

Last week, a big roundup led to a riot in an Eritrean prison which killed some 20 people, said several sources, including diplomats in Asmara, who asked not to be named.

Asked about these deaths, Eritrean Information Minister Ali Abdu had told AFP, without giving further details: "I can’t say there were no incidents."

Several young Eritreans, who also asked not to be named, told AFP last week that "these roundups started in 1998."

"They were severe during the war. Since 2002, they had been declining, but right now they’re increasing. Soldiers go into offices, houses, stop cars, taxis, buses, and ask for identity cards," they said.

The roundups have been interpreted by some diplomats as proof of a complicated relation between UNMEE and the Eritrean government, which might be responsible for the recent replacement of the current intermediary between UNMEE and Asmara.

Asked on Thursday about this replacement, the UNMEE spokeswoman said: "We have just been told that Colonel Zecarias Ogbagaber will replace General Abrahaley Kifle, and at the moment we haven’t read anything more into that."

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