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Ethiopia Claims Eritrean Shootdown

February 26, 1999

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) _ Ethiopia claimed its warplanes shot down an Eritrean MiG-29 in a dogfight Thursday over their disputed western border, where fierce ground fighting raged for a third consecutive day.

Ethiopian fighter jets brought down the plane over the Badme front, 600 miles north of the capital, Addis Ababa, a diplomatic source told The Associated Press.

The two countries in the Horn of Africa are contesting parts of their 620-mile border that were never demarcated after Eritrea won independence from Ethiopia in 1993.

Government spokeswoman Selome Tadesse did not confirm the shootdown, saying only that Ethiopian forces had inflicted heavy damage on Eritrean air and ground units.

If true, it would be the first time Eritrea had deployed its air force since fighting flared Feb. 6, ending a six-month stalemate.

Both sides have alleged an upper hand in the fighting. Neither claim could be independently corroborated.

Eritrea claimed Wednesday to have destroyed 31 Ethiopian tanks and captured three others, while shooting down a helicopter gunship.

Commenting on Wednesday’s fighting, Tadesse said Ethiopia had caused ``heavy losses″ to Eritrean forces. She did not elaborate.

It was not known what Ethiopian aircraft were engaged in Thursday’s reported dogfight.

The Ethiopian air force is equipped with the modern Soviet Su-27 fighter jets and modified versions of MiG-23s and MiG-21s.

Tensions between Eritrea and Ethiopia have escalated since May, when war broke out along the barren, largely uninhabited border and 1,000 people were killed.

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