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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

ERITREA: Government has capacity to clear mines itself - information ministry

ASMARA, 13 June 2003 (IRIN) - The Eritrean government has the capacity and experience to clear the country's minefields on its own, the Acting Information Minister, Ali Abdu Ahmed told IRIN on Thursday.

Following years of demining activities resulting from the Eritrean war of independence, "the experience and the skills are still well in place," Abdu Ahmed said. "Having the necessary capacity and skills to carry out duties of clearing mines, there is therefore no reason whatsoever why we cannot take care of it on our own.

"The efficient manner in which the government of Eritrea has been working following independence in clearing minefields can serve as a solid testimony to that experience," he said.

Asked about the Eritrean Demining Authority's (EDA) capacity and achievements to date, he said "nobody is entitled to certify us, whether we are capable or not." He said the authority had done "a lot" in clearing minefields, but that he did not have data or statistics regarding achievements.

Attempts by IRIN to reach the EDA failed. The authority's mandate is to conduct research about landmines and coordinate demining activities, to educate people about the dangers of mines, and to transform mined land into farmland by removing the devices, thereby expediting the return of displaced people to their homes.

Last week the mine-action group, Halo Trust, was asked to leave Eritrea by the end of June. At the end of August 2002 - when the EDA was set up - four other mine-action NGOs were asked to leave, having been accused on a government website of "wasting time".

Abdu Ahmed said the government was not being ungrateful to international mine-action groups, but added "now we can do it by ourselves".

"Help us to help ourselves," he said. "Don't give us the fish every morning, teach us to fish. Self-reliance is our permanent guidance.

"We have the experience and the skills but obviously we ... are a poor country. If people can support us, we need equipment and a budget."

Speaking in Eritrea on Wednesday, the UN Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Carolyn Mc Askie, told IRIN she had asked the Eritrean authorities to reconsider their position on the presence of demining organisations.

"My first request is that the parties sit down and talk," she said. "I know that the government has concerns about the fact that the international organisations' method of removing mines is slow, it's technology is complicated and it's expensive."

"Our defence of that is that it is better to be slow and to demine properly and without any casualties," she said.

McAskie said she hoped the parties could find a way of operating whereby the technology, the training and the expertise of the international deminers would be used alongside the local expertise.

"We've asked the government to reconsider because we feel there must be a way in which we can all work together," she said. She added that the international community was keen to help in the demining and that there was plenty of work for all of the parties. "Why not let them work alongside the Eritreans and let's get this done more quickly?"

Mehreteab Fessehaie, an official with Eritrea Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (ERREC), said on Wednesday that the government was not intending to delay the process, but that the NGOs had not performed as well as it had expected. "Let's wait and see the initiatives that the government is taking," he said.

Theme(s): (IRIN) Conflict



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