Ethiopian MiGs launch raids on Eritrean capital

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Four Ethiopian MiG-23 fighter aircraft attacked the airport in Asmara yesterday as indirect peace talks between Eritrea and Ethiopia were due to get under way in Algeria. Plumes of black smoke rose over the Eritrean capital as anti-aircraft guns returned fire.

Four Ethiopian MiG-23 fighter aircraft attacked the airport in Asmara yesterday as indirect peace talks between Eritrea and Ethiopia were due to get under way in Algeria. Plumes of black smoke rose over the Eritrean capital as anti-aircraft guns returned fire.

The bombs hit military buildings and set a small tower on fire. The government said that two civilians were injured, but gave no information about military personnel. Gaping holes in the roofs of the military out-houses, and craters within metres of stationary MiGs and military helicopters were evidence of a close miss at the military airstrip, which is next to the civilian airport. Two craters also left the airport road damaged. Russian cluster bomb containers were found near the craters.

Yemane Gebremeskel, the presidential spokesman, accused Ethiopia of using former Soviet pilots to fly the sophisticated aircraft, in direct violation of a UN Security Council arms embargo recently imposed on both countries.

A Red Cross plane, stationary on the runway after delivering emergency relief to famine-threatened areas took off after the bombing to get out of harm's way. The UN World Food Programme's spokesman, Lindsey Davis, said bombardment of the airport meant delivery of relief was "hanging in the balance" with two flights of urgently needed food due to arrive over the next two days.

Offices closed as people made their way back to their families - many distraught and incredulous because the bombs had fallen on the first scheduled day of peace talks brokered by the Organisation of African Unity. Military police directed traffic and prevented access to the airport area.

Ambulances and fire engines were called to the airport, which is less than four kilometres from the city centre. "My God, my God," cried one woman with her head in her hands as she cowered in the corner of her office. "They want to destroy us."

Eritrean fighter planes stepped up patrol of the skies around Asmara on Sunday night and yesterday morning, as the Ethiopian government continued to declare its determination to "fight while talking and talk while fighting".

Eritrean jets chased the Ethiopian aircraft immediately after the attack, and continued to patrol the skies. On Sunday, Ethiopian aircraft bombed a new power plant financed by Middle East donors and Italy near the Red Sea port of Massawa. Diplomatic sources said that civilians had begun evacuating Assab port in the south east.

Embassy staff from Western missions say that while there are no immediate plans for evacuation they are "watching the situation by the minute". US and UN non-essential staff were taken out last week, along with a number of aid workers and Eritreans with US citizenship. The attacks by Ethiopia "make a mockery of peace talks" said one diplomat.

The talks were delayed until today because of the late arrival in Algiers of the Ethiopian foreign minister, Seyoum Mesfin.

Eritreans fear that the UN and the US are failing to condemn Ethiopia more vigorously because - at 20 times the size of Eritrea - it is considered more strategically important in a region that for decades allied itself with communism and cold-shouldered America.

Ethiopia reignited its festering war with Eritrea eight days after the failure of the last round of Algerian-brokered peace talks on 4 May. The talks broke off over technicalities of implementing a peace accord.

The two weeks since then have seen the fiercest fighting of the war, with Ethiopia forcing its adversary from the disputed border and advancing on the capital, sending hundreds of thousands of civilians fleeing.

Comments