Global Policy Forum

Eritrea Says 200 Ethiopians Die in Fighting

February 23, 2000

Asmara (Eritrea) - Eritrea said Wednesday its troops had killed some 200 Ethiopian soldiers in fresh fighting at Bure on the common border after a year of relative calm. ``One thousand five hundred troops were involved in this battle and about 200 Ethiopian soldiers were either killed or wounded,'' Eritrean presidential adviser Yemane Ghebremeskel told Reuters.

Ghebremeskel did not give Eritrean casualties and declined to say who had started the fighting at the Bure front, which lies south of the capital Asmara, on the main road from the Eritrean port of Assab. It also was unclear if the fighting, which he said broke out in the morning, had stopped. ``This does not mean that the war has restarted but we will have to see what happens tomorrow morning,'' he said.

It was not possible to reach the Ethiopian government for comment. This time last year, bloody trench warfare on three fronts along the 620-mile frontier left tens of thousands of soldiers dead. An estimated 250,000 Eritrean soldiers are lined up against 350,000 Ethiopian troops along the border.

The fresh fighting broke out while US special envoy Anthony Lake was in the Eritrean capital in a bid to find a solution to the 22-month border war. Lake, the former White House National Security adviser, visited the region several times last year but failed to mediate an end to the war.

Diplomats said Lake's main goal was to head off a new round of fighting by persuading Ethiopia to sign a peace plan drawn up by the Organization of African Unity and accepted by Eritrea. Lake later left for the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa after talks with Eritrean President Isayas Afewerki and senior Eritrean foreign affairs officials. Ghebremeskel refused to say how the talks had gone and Lake left without issuing a statement.

Eritrean army commanders earlier told Reuters they were on high alert in anticipation of an Ethiopian offensive in contested border territories occupied by Eritrean forces. Eritrean soldiers on leave in Asmara reported increasing numbers of skirmishes along the border and said tension was rising, although neither government has confirmed the reports.

Eritrea was an Italian colony until World War II and later became a province of Ethiopia. Eritrea became independent in 1993 with Ethiopia's blessing, but only after a bitter guerrilla war, which ended in 1991 with the overthrow of the Ethiopian Marxist regime.

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