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Eritrean, Ethiopian exchange of POWs begins

graphic

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (CNN) -- A series of flights began Saturday between Ethiopia and Eritrea to repatriate prisoners of war from both countries, after a bloody two-year border war.

The first flight, on a plane chartered by the International Red Cross, took off from Addis Ababa at 9:40 a.m. (0740 GMT) carrying 97 Eritreans to Asmara. The plane returned to Addis Ababa carrying 90 Ethiopians.

The flights are scheduled to continue through Sunday, eventually shuttling about 700 people between the two capitals.

The exchange of prisoners of war was part of a cease-fire agreement reached in June and signed this month by the two countries, ending the conflict.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki signed the accord in Algeria in a ceremony attended by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Part of the agreement calls for the deployment of some 4,200 U.N. peacekeepers along the disputed 1,000-kilometer (600-mile) border between the two countries.

Border never outlined

The fighting erupted on May 6, 1998, when Eritrea -- which won independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after a 30-year guerrilla war -- invaded what Ethiopia considered its territory.

The border between Eritrea, a nation of 3.5 million on the Red Sea coast, and Ethiopia, its much larger landlocked neighbor of 60 million, was never formally outlined, despite friendly relations at the start of Eritrea's independence

After a series of failed international mediations to stop the war, Ethiopia launched a swift offensive inside Eritrea in May and declared the war over, claiming it had recaptured its territory.

Under the terms of the June agreement, Ethiopia is supposed to move back from positions that were not under its administration before the war broke out. Eritreans will withdraw to 15 miles from Ethiopia's new positions.

Tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians were killed in the war, an unknown number of prisoners were captured and 650,000 people were displaced on both sides of the border, according to estimates from both sides.

Reuters contributed to this report.



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Eritrea, Ethiopia distrustful despite readiness to sign peace agreement
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Ethiopia says it will end war with Eritrea
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Eritrea accepts plan for cease-fire in war with Ethiopia
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RELATED SITES:
International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) - Comité international de la Croix-Rouge (CICR)
U.N. peacekeeping mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea
Government of Eritrea
Eritrean Network Information Center
Organization of African Unity (OAU)

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