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Ethiopia: Eritrea Clashes Spreading

March 15, 1999

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) _ Weekend skirmishes have escalated into a new round of heavy fighting in the 10-month border war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, Ethiopia said today.

Small skirmishes erupted Sunday at the Zalambessa-Egela front 60 miles south of the Eritrean capital of Asmara, Ethiopia said in a news release. The clashes developed into full-scale fighting that continued today, Ethiopia said.

Eritrea and Ethiopia are fighting over parts of their barren 620-mile border that was never clearly demarcated after Eritrea became independent from Ethiopia in 1993.

Eritrea said it shot down an Ethiopian MiG-23 jet fighter and destroyed 19 tanks in fighting Sunday at the Tsorona front, northeast of Zalambesa. Eritrea said it also had captured two Ethiopian tanks.

Ethiopian government spokeswoman Selome Tadesse called Eritrea’s report ``ridiculous.″

Tadesse also backed off Ethiopia’s earlier claim that Tsorona saw only small skirmishes Sunday. Heavy fighting that started there Sunday continued, she said today.

Before Sunday’s fighting, there had been a two-week lull in the latest round of battles that began Feb. 6. Full-scale fighting in May and June killed 1,000 people.

There are reports that as many as 10,000 people, mainly Ethiopian and Eritrean troops, died in fighting last month. Neither government has made public its losses, and it has not been possible to obtain independent confirmation.

Both countries have accepted an Organization of African Unity agreement to settle the dispute, but their differing interpretations of the agreement have left peace efforts deadlocked.

The U.N. Security Council intensified its efforts last week to convince the two countries to talk rather than fight.

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