Eritrean troops hold on to border town

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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.

Fears that Ethiopia's stronger air force would resume strikes on Eritrea's capital have so far proved unfounded. But 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 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.