Eritrea holds border town

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The Independent Online
ERITREAN forces were establishing control of Zalambessa yesterday, despite Ethiopian claims to have recaptured the key border town.

Newspapers in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, reported on Sunday that Ethiopian troops had recaptured the town, which fell to Eritrean forces last Tuesday.

But journalists travelled more than 12 miles into Ethiopian territory with Eritrean troops yesterday, passing through the heavily fortified border town, which is 60 miles south of the Eritrean capital, Asmara.

Bodies of Ethiopians killed when the town fell last Tuesday lay rotting in the streets. The Eritrean troops explained that it was not their responsibility to bury the dead of their enemy.

The neighbouring countries remain on a war footing. Hopes are slim that a new peace initiative will emerge from Africa's annual summit of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), being held in Burkina Faso this week.

The pan-African body - which may have been hampered by the fact that its headquarters is located in Ethiopia and that Eritrea has little time for the organisation - has played a back-seat role since the first armed clash on the border on 6 May.

At the weekend, OAU foreign ministers called for a cessation of hostilities and backed a US and Rwandan mediation initiative.

The plan calls for Eritrean forces to withdraw to their pre-6 May positions and for a demilitarised border.

So far, fears that Ethiopia's stronger air force would resume strikes on Eritrea's capital have proved unfounded.

The raids last Friday and Saturday sparked a massive rescue operation by western governments, Russia and the United Nations. Nearly 2,000 foreigners were evacuated by air from Asmara over the weekend.

The governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea both emerged from guerrilla movements, which fought together in a marathon rebellion to overthrow Ethiopia's regime.

They succeeded in getting rid of the harsh and unpopular pro-Soviet government of Col Mengistu in 1991 and two years later the Eritreans were awarded their independence from Ethiopia.

The new state even inherited the entire seaboard of the former Ethiopia.