Eritrea + 1 more

Ethiopia Denies Starting Fresh Fighting With Eritrea

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (PANA) - Ethiopia Thursday denied responsibility of starting fresh fighting along the eastern Bure front with Eritrea at the heels of the arrival in Addis Ababa of OAU and US mediators attempting to revive the peace process over the border dispute between the two neighbours.
Government spokesperson Selome Tadesse put the blame squarely on the Eritrean side, for what she termed "provocative" border skirmishes early Wednesday, which has since died down, and the Bure front was quiet once more.

Both countries traded blames for provoking the fresh skirmishes when the special envoys of the current chairman of the OAU, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, and US President Bill Clinton embarked on efforts to revive the stalled peace process.

Ahmed Ouyahia and former US national security adviser, Anthony Lake, arrived in Addis Ababa Wednesday night from Asmara where they held two days of discussions with President Issaias Afworki on how to end the border conflict.

Eritrea had accused Ethiopian forces of launching an offensive on the Bure front early Wednesday but said it was successfully repulsed by Eritrean troops.

Asmara claimed 120 Ethiopian troops were killed, 80 others wounded and four captured in the combat, which it said, involved 2,500 to 3,500 troops from both sides.

Selome acknowledged to reporters that there were skirmishes on the Bure front, saying "it was a minor skirmish started by the Eritreans and quickly stopped."

Eritreans deliberately provoked the "incident, knowing fully well that the OAU and the American mediators were coming to Addis Ababa by late Wednesday. It appears they wanted to make it look like Ethiopia was not interested in the peace talks and that it is not trustworthy," she observed.

"By attacking first and then blaming Ethiopia for initiating the military engagement, the Issaias government hopes the international community will be decided," she added. "Such deceptive tactics, however, only serve to obstruct the peace process and once again demonstrate Eritrea's untrustworthiness as a negotiating partner."

Meanwhile, Ouyahia and Lake were due to hold separate talks with Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin later Thursday.

Their mission is interpreted by diplomatic observers in Addis Ababa as "a last minute" attempt to avert another round of full-scale fighting between Ethiopia and Eritrea as both sides were said to be in "high alert" with large troops amassed along Bade, Zalambessa and Bure - the three flash points at their tense border.

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