The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is to repatriate up to 750 Ethiopian and Eritrean prisoners of war at the weekend, with the first direct flights between the former belligerents' capitals in more than two years.
Ethiopia and Eritrea reached a cease-fire agreement in June which ended a two-year war over disputed border territory, and signed a peace accord earlier this month.
"The first round of the repatriation process will start tomorrow morning," ICRC spokesman Alain Aeschlimann said on Friday.
The 700 to 750 prisoners involved are all seriously wounded or ill, he said, adding that they had all been interviewed to confirm they wished to return home.
The flights -- two return trips from each country on Saturday and one on Sunday -- would be the first official flights between the capitals since May 1998, when war broke out between Ethiopia and its former Red Sea province.
The fighting ended in June, and both countries signed a peace deal brokered by the Organization of African Unity (OAU), in Algiers on December 12.
The deal included assurances that prisoners of war would return home.
"We will fly directly between Addis Ababa and Asmara, both governments have agreed on the routing," Aeschlimann said.
The repatriation operation was supposed to begin early Friday, Aeschlimann said, but the plane chartered by the ICRC had a motor failure.
The ICRC said it has counted 2,600 Eritrean prisoners being held in Ethiopia and 1,000 Ethiopian prisoners in Eritrea but stressed this was not the total number of prisoners of war.
"In international armed conflicts, some people turn up at the end of the fighting, so I will not be surprised (if there are more POWs), we will see in coming weeks," Aeschlimann said -- ADDIS ABABA (AFP)
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