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Eritrean Rebels Claim They Destroyed Planes In Asmara Attack

May 12, 1988

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) _ Ethiopian rebels claimed Thursday that they destroyed some aircraft when they shelled the airport at Asmara, Ethiopia’s second- largest city and a provincial northern capital.

″The airport was heavily damaged by the accurate shelling,″ the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front said over its clandestine radio in a broadcast monitored in Nairobi. ″An as yet unknown number of aircraft were destroyed.″

Rebel spokesman Tesfai Ghermazien, in a telephone interview from his Washington, D.C. office, said the planes probably were military aircraft, but he had no further information.

Asmara is an important military air base as well as a pickup point for cargo planes ferrying relief food to Ethiopian drought victims.

President Mengistu Haile Mariam’s government rarely comments on claims of the separatist rebels, who are waging wars in the provinces of Tigre and Eritrea. There was no way to independently confirm the rebel report.

Western diplomats and relief officials in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, said they had heard nothing about an attack. But they said little information has come out of the region since the government expelled foreign aid workers from Eritrea and Tigre on April 6.

Eritrea and Tigre, in the extreme north of Ethiopia, are the hardest hit by the current drought. A massive Western-financed relief operation has been crippled by the expulsion of relief workers, but the government says the expulsions are for security reasons.

Asmara, Eritrea’s capital, is 670 miles north of Addis Ababa. The airport is about 1 1/2 miles from the town and is guarded by troops in trenches along its perimeter.

In the past week, the rebels and the government have both claimed victories in battles being fought within 60 miles of Asmara.

Rebels have shelled Asmara airport periodically over the past few years.

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