Ethiopia urges U.S. to press Eritrea

Reuters; Wednesday, March 17 1999

WASHINGTON, March 17 (Reuters) - A senior Ethiopian official on Wednesday faulted the international community, especially the United States, for not pressuring Eritrea to withdraw from disputed territory in Ethiopia.

The U.N. Security Council has urged both countries to cease their border war ``but they never told Eritrea to withdraw. Never,'' Tekeda Alemu, vice minister of foreign affairs, told Reuters in an interview.

Eritrea ``has never been told by the United States or the United Nations that aggression is not allowed, cannot be rewarded, that principles of international aw cannot be flouted,'' he said.

``That is what has become bewildering to us. Why they failed to do that I don't know. We don't have an explanation for that,'' he said.

Tekeda, in Washington for a U.S.-sponsored ministerial conference on Africa, accused the Clinton administration of being ``biased in favour of Eritrea.''

He said the administration's failure to pressure Eritrea to withdraw from the disputed territory has led to diminished support for the United States among Ethiopians.

``The State Department knows it can rely on our country to be a source of stability, that we are very predictable in that regard. We don't need to be coddled. That might be our problem,'' he said.

``You (the United States) lean on Ethiopia because they are the more rational party even if they might be on the end of injustice,'' he added.

The border war between the two Horn of Africa neighbours started last May when Eritrea occupied land at Badme, southwest of Asmara and at the border town of Zalambessa.

When fighting restarted on three fronts in February after an eight month lull, Ethiopia regained territory at Badme.

Both sides have now accepted an Organisation of African Unity peace plan designed to end the fighting, but the war has continued.

Eritrea has called for a ceasefire, while Ethiopia demands Eritrea withdraw from disputed at Zalambessa, close to Tsorona.

Tekeda said Eritrea only accepted the OAU peace plan after Ethiopia regained Badme and called acceptance a ``tactical manoeuvre.''

He accused Eritrea of preparing to launch an offensive to retake Badme as well as retain control of the disputed area already in Eritrean hands.

Ethiopian officials in Addis Ababa Tuesday dismissed Eritrea's claim that it had inflicted heavy losses on Ethiopia as it repulsed an offensive in renewed border fighting between the two Horn of Africa states.

Ethiopia accuses Eritrea of propaganda campaign

Reuters; Wednesday, March 17 1999
By Tsegaye Tadesse

ADDIS ABABA, March 17 (Reuters) - Ethiopia accused Eritrea on Wednesday of mounting an elaborate propaganda campaign to hide its battlefield losses in the border conflict between the two states.

The accusation followed a claim by the Eritrean presidency that its forces destroyed 57 Ethiopian tanks and captured six others in three days of intense fighting this week at Tsorona, south of the Eritrean capital.

Journalists who visited Belessa on the Tsorona front on Tuesday reported seeing at least 300 Ethiopian soldiers' corpses piled around Eritrean trenches as well as 20 destroyed Ethiopian tanks.

But Ethiopia said that visit, organised by Eritrean authorities, was a public relations stunt.

``Whatever the Eritrean government may assert, whatever evidence it might produce to back up its incredible assertions, one can be fairly sure that it is just the latest round in the government's campaign of deception and fabrication,'' said a statement by Ethiopian government spokeswoman Selome Taddesse.

The statement said ``many'' Eritreans died in the Tsorona fighting but gave no details of the fighting itself.

The border war between the two Horn of Africa neighbours started last May when Eritrea occupied land at Badme, southwest of Asmara and at the border town of Zalambessa.

When fighting restarted on three fronts in February after an eight month lull, Ethiopia regained territory at Badme.

Both sides have now accepted an Organisation of African Unity peace plan designed to end the fighting, but the war has continued.

Eritrea has called for a ceasefire, while Ethiopia demands Eritrea withdraw from disputed at Zalambessa, close to Tsorona.

At Belessa, the contorted bodies of Ethiopian soldiers could be seen lying on top of each other and in one 200-metre (yard) stretch there was at least one Ethiopian corpse every metre. Eritrea gave no details of its own casualties.

``They attacked on Sunday with everything at hand, advanced tanks, MiG bombers, helicopters and Antonovs,'' Colonel Afewerki Yermane, a frontline commander told Reuters on Tuesday. ``But as you have seen, we held our positions and destroyed the attack.''

Beyond Eritrean trenches a Reuters team saw a thick plume of black smoke rising into the blue sky and 20 destroyed Ethiopian tanks, their barrels pointing towards Eritrean positions.

Eritrea said the front at Tsorona was quiet on Wednesday.

(Additional reporting by Alexander Last in Belessa, Eritrea)

Eritrea Claims Major Victory

AP; Wednesday, March 17 1999

ASMARA, Eritrea (AP) -- The Eritrean army killed hundreds of Ethiopian soldiers and destroyed scores of tanks in the latest round of fighting in the 10-month border war between the two countries, the Eritrean government said today.

A government official said more than 40,000 Ethiopian troops were routed during three days of fighting that ended Tuesday morning at the Tsorona front, 60 miles south of the capital Asmara.

``We can say half of the Ethiopian forces were killed or wounded,'' said Andre Michael Kahsai, a senior Foreign Ministry official.

Journalists escorted by Eritrean forces to the Tsorona front Tuesday reported seeing the scattered bodies of hundreds of Ethiopian soldiers and the burning husks of Ethiopian tanks.

Ethiopia issued a statement saying the bodies and tanks were simply an Eritrean ``drama staged for the benefit of journalists.'' The statement never specifically denied the defeat at Tsorona.

Eritrea had destroyed more than 50 Ethiopian tanks and captured six more undamaged, Kahsai said.

Ethiopia attacked Eritrean defensive positions at Tsorona with continual waves of troops, making up four divisions of at least 11,000 each, he said.

``We are talking thousands and thousands of soldiers,'' Kahsai said. ``On top of that, 5,000 civilians were taken by the Ethiopians to carry ammunition on their backs. Unfortunately, some of them were killed and some were captured.''

The two countries have been at war since May over areas of their barren 600-mile border, which was not clearly demarcated when Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993.

Ethiopia said in a statement Tuesday that fighting continued at the Zalambessa front, 20 miles southwest of Tsorona. It did not give any details of that battle.

In apparent retaliation for the defeat at Tsorona, Ethiopia launched an air raid against the town of Kinafina, 22 miles northwest of Tsorona, wounding eight civilians, Eritrea said.

Kahsai said the win at Tsorona was the biggest Eritrean victory since an eight-month stalemate ended with renewed fighting Feb. 6.

Ethiopia won a key victory Feb. 27, recapturing the town of Badme on the western battlefront.

After that victory, Eritrea announced its acceptance of an African-sponsored peace plan. But the countries still disagree over terms for a cease-fire.

Salim Ahmed Salim, head of the Organization of African Unity, which drafted the peace proposal, met with Eritrea's Foreign Minister Haile Woldensae on Tuesday in Washington, where African government officials from 46 countries are participating in a conference organized by the Clinton administration.

Asmara says Ethiopia in air raid vengeance, Addis denies losses

AFP; Wednesday, March 17 1999

NAIROBI, March 17 (AFP) - Eritrea on Wednesday accused Ethiopia of badly wounding eight civilians in an air raid on a village as vengeance for heavy losses in fighting, but Addis Ababa strongly denied military setbacks.

The foreign ministry in Asmara said an air attack took place on the southwestern village of Kinafina in "a sign of despair and an apparent attempt to take revenge after the defeat on the Tsorona front", in a communique released to AFP here.

Eritrea on Tuesday said its army had inflicted heavy casualties on Ethiopian troops on the Tsorona central front in the Horn of Africa border war, repulsing a major offensive, killing thousands of soldiers and destroying 57 tanks.

Ethiopian government spokeswoman Salome Tadesse on Wednesday forcefully rejected Asmara's claim of the gains at Tsorona, the wrecking of the tanks and the shooting down of MiG-23 aircraft.

She told AFP in Addis Ababa that it was no more than an attempt to boost Eritrean military morale after major losses at Badme, a key town seized by Ethiopian troops last month in a battle that both sides said cost thousands of lives.

"It's a lie, a pure fabrication, and we strongly deny the Eritrean allegations, aimed at the low morale of the Eritrean troops after the defeat in Badme," Tadesse said,

However, she failed to say whether central front fighting was continuing on Wednesday morning. According to the foreign mininstry in Asmara, clashes stopped on Tuesday after the Ethiopian offensive in the area failed totally.

Tadesse said that this report from Asmara was "a replay and the Eritrean authorities should stop staging theatre and instead look for a lasting peace by a withdrawal from still occupied Ethiopian territories."

On February 28, Addis Ababa announced a "total victory" in the Badme sector and Asmara admitted that Ethiopian troops had advanced, while their own had undertaken a strategic withdrawal.

After the fall of Badme, taken by Eritrea when the conflict broke out in May last year, Eritrean President Issaias Afeworki told the UN Security Council in a letter that Asmara was prepared to accept an Organisation of African Unity (OAU) peace plan to settle the dispute.

Since then, however, a war of words has taken place over interpretation of the OAU plan, notably its provisions for troop withdrawals by the rival sides. According to Addis Ababa, Eritrea continues to occupy "Ethiopian territory" in the central Zala Anbesa-Aiga and Egala regions and at Bada-Burie in the east.

Kinafina, the village reported to have been bombed, lies about 200 kilometres (125 miles) southwest of the Eritrean capital and 40 kilometres (25 miles) from the western Badme front, an Eritrean diplomat in the Kenyan capital told AFP.

Since heavy fighting resumed on February 6 after a seven-month-lull in the war over ill-defined border land, Asmara has accused the Addis Ababa government of raids on several towns and villages, killing 27 civilians and wounding some 30 others.

Ethiopia has denied targeting civilians.

The OAU plan provides for the withdrawal of forces from the neighbouring countries to pre-war positions, the deployment of peacekeepers, and neutral delineation of the disputed border inherited from times when Ethiopia was under Italian colonial rule.

Rebel armies from Eritrea, once administered by Britain and then the Red Sea province of Ethiopia, linked up with guerrillas mainly from Ethiopia's neighbouring Tigray region to oust Addis Ababa's military dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam in May 1991.

Eritrea then gained de facto independence, fully recognised two years later, but relations between the two countries have deteriorated since.

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