Eritrea + 1 more

Eritrea says over 10,000 Ethiopians died on border

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By Alexander Last

ASMARA, March 18 (Reuters) - Eritrea said on Thursday its army killed at least 10,000 Ethiopian troops in intense fighting along their contested border this week.

Presidential adviser Yermane Gebremeskel said clashes continued on Thursday in the western border region of Badme but that fighting had died down along the central Tsorona front, where journalists saw hundreds of dead Ethiopian soldiers on Tuesday.

"Their soldiers are dying by the thousand. Our conservative estimate puts Ethiopian casualties at Tsorona at least 10,000," Yermane told Reuters.

He said the fighting at Tsorona had covered an area of 15 square miles and that the battlefield was littered with Ethiopian corpses.

A Reuters correspondent who visited the area on Tuesday and walked 200 metres along the front line saw at least 300 Ethiopian dead.

An Eritrean military commander said those soldiers had advanced three km (two miles) under heavy fire while others fell all around them, but they were shot down as they reached Eritrean trenches.

Eritrea made no mention of its own casualties, and soldiers at the frontline on Tuesday said they had already buried or removed their own dead.

Ethiopia flatly denied Eritrea's claims and dismissed the apparent evidence as a publicity stunt to fool journalists.

The border war began last year with a month of fighting and, after another eight months of rising tension and troop reinforcements along the border, the second round began in early February.

Late last month, Ethiopia succeeded in pushing Eritrean forces out of the Badme region which they had occupied in the first round of fighting last year.

The United Nations and the Organisation of African Unity have led international efforts to secure a ceasefire in the war, but without success.

Eritrea won independence from Ethiopia in 1993 and the two countries were allies until the simmering border dispute erupted last year.

Eritrean President Isayas Afewerki and Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi fought as allies as their rebel groups swept former Ethiopian dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam from power in 1991. Eritrea gained its independence two years later with the blessing of Meles' government.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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