Ethiopian children die in stampede as fighting flares again memorial service

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Fourteen children were killed and 67 others injured in a stampede in Addis Ababa yesterday.

Fourteen children were killed and 67 others injured in a stampede in Addis Ababa yesterday.

The stampede began when rain started falling at an amphitheatre where thousands of pupils were watching a cultural show to commemorate a deadly Eritrean air raid two years ago. "The students fell upon each other," a witness said. "There was pandemonium as the injured started wailing and calling for help."

The crush occurred as heavy fighting between Ethiopia and Eritrea flared again yesterday - despite one side having declared the war over and the other insisting it is committed to peace. Intensive artillery exchanges started after dawn along the southern desert Bure front, 40 miles from Assab, Eritrea's main port. Both sides accused the other of firing first but neither claim could be independently verified.

Eritrea accuses land-locked Ethiopia of wanting to capture the strategic Red Sea port, a charge vehemently denied by Ethiopia. Eritrea claimed Ethiopia first attacked on Saturday, provoking a fierce hand-to-hand desert battle. A spokesman, Mr Yemane Ghebremeskal, claimed his side repulsed the attack and killed, wounded or captured over 3,700 Ethiopian soldiers.

But the Ethiopian government said it attacked only after Eritrean provocation, and poured scorn on the claimed casualty figures.

Since launching a surprise offensive during which it pushed deep into Eritrea, Ethiopia has captured all of the disputed territories that sparked the war, as well as some undisputed Eritrean land.

Last Wednesday, Ethiopia's Prime Minister, Mr Meles Zenawi, declared the war over. He said his troops would be confined to protecting the positions they had captured.

But peace negotiations in Algiers, and sponsored by the Organisation of African Unity, the United Nations and the European Union, have failed to produce a ceasefire agreement.

The main sticking point has been the continuing Ethiopian presence on undisputed Eritrean territory. Ethiopia says it will hold the positions until the international community provides security guarantees; Eritrea says there can be no truce before a full withdrawal.

But as peace talks stall, the war continues to exact a heavy humanitarian toll in Eritrea.