Eritrea, Ethiopia trade blame for bor­der clashes

Pakistan Observer - - INTERNATIONAL -

AD­DIS ABABA—Eritrea and Ethiopia ac­cused each other of start­ing clashes on Sun­day be­tween their sol­diers in a bor­der re­gion, high­light­ing per­sis­tent ten­sion over a bound­ary dis­pute that trig­gered war in 1998-2000.

Ethiopia said the sit­u­a­tion was calm on Monday, af­ter a res­i­dent on the Ethiopian side re­ported the sound of ex­plo­sions all day on Sun­day and last­ing into the early morn­ing of Monday.

Eritrea, a Horn of Africa coun­try that won independence from Ethiopia in 1991, fought bor­der wars with its larger neigh­bor in 1998-2000 that killed about 70,000 peo­ple.

Eritrea’s In­for­ma­tion Min­istry said in a state­ment late on Sun­day night that the Ethiopian govern­ment had “un­leashed an at­tack against Eritrea on the Tsorona Cen­tral Front.”

Tsorona is a town south of the Eritrean cap­i­tal As­mara and close to the fron­tier. The area saw in­tense fight­ing dur­ing the ear­lier bor­der war.

“The pur­pose and ram­i­fi­ca­tions of this at­tack are not clear,” the Eritrean state­ment said.

Ethiopia dis­puted this ac­count, say­ing Eritrea started the fight. “Their forces were promptly re­pulsed. They were given a proper re­sponse,” govern­ment spokesman Ge­tachew Reda said, adding that the sit­u­a­tion was quiet on Monday.

Eritrea and Ethiopia rou­tinely ac­cuse each other of back­ing rebels try­ing to desta­bi­lize and top­ple the other’s govern­ment, a legacy from the ear­lier war.

A res­i­dent in the Ethiopian town of Zalambessa, across the bor­der from Tsorona, told Reuters by tele­phone that he had heard the sound of shelling on Sun­day and into the night.

“It did not stop un­til this morn­ing around 9 a.m. (2.00 a.m. ET),” he said, ask­ing not to be iden­ti­fied. He added that he had seen Ethiopian mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles and troops mov­ing along the cen­tral stretch of the mil­i­ta­rized bor­der.

Eritrean In­for­ma­tion Min­is­ter Ye­mane Ghe­bremeskel had no im­me­di­ate ad­di­tional com­ment when asked about ca­su­al­ties or other de­tails of the at­tack. Ethiopian govern­ment of­fi­cials also did not say if there were any ca­su­al­ties.

Char­lotte King, se­nior Africa an­a­lyst at the Econ­o­mist In­tel­li­gence Unit, said it was un­usual for Eritrea to com­ment on flare-ups but said the state­ment may have been prompted by U.N. crit­i­cism Eritrea has faced over its pro­longed na­tional ser­vice.

The U.N. ac­cuses Eritrea of rights abuses for in­def­i­nite na­tional ser­vice, where Eritre­ans can spend many years in low-paid work un­der con­scrip­tion. As­mara says an on­go­ing threat from Ethiopia makes ex­tended na­tional ser­vice es­sen­tial.—Reuters KUALA

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