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Tuesday, March 2, 1999 Published at 17:08 GMT

World: Africa

Analysis: Arms pour in for border war

Both sides are building up their armouries

By regional expert Patrick Gilkes

Ethiopia - Eritrea conflict
There has been a high-tech element to the Ethiopia-Eritrea conflict. In December, Ethiopia took delivery of eight Sukhoi 27 fighters, and Eritrea acquired eight to ten MiG-29 interceptors.

Both planes have ground attack capability, and they represent a significant step up from the MiG-21 and MiG-23 fighters left over from the previous military dictatorship of Mengistu Haile Mariam, overthrown in 1991.

[ image: Ethiopia says it seized these arms near the frontier]
Ethiopia says it seized these arms near the frontier
Neither side, however, has any pilots qualified for the new planes. They are being flown by pilots from Russia, Ukraine or Latvia and both are using Russian technicians for their maintenance.

Both sides have also been buying helicopters. Eritrea has obtained several attack helicopters from Italy, to add to the four given to it by Ethiopia in 1995 at the time of its conflict with Yemen over the Hanish Islands, and never returned.

Parminder Sandhu: "Selling arms to Africa is big business"
Ethiopia bought helicopter gunships and attack helicopters from Russia in December to add to its existing fleet.

Since the conflict broke out last May, both sides have also been building up their armouries, buying arms and ammunition widely.

[ image: Tension has been high since the border war last May]
Tension has been high since the border war last May
Eritrea has been getting material, including rocket supplies for its BM21 multi-barrelled rocket-launchers, known as "Stalin's Organs", from Bulgaria, flown into Asmara by Ukrainian planes.

One recent consignment of 91 containers, stopped by the Belgian authorities in Antwerp last year, held quantities of reconditioned engines that could be used for T-55 tanks, of which the Eritreans inherited hundreds in 1991. Other dual purpose equipment in the consignment included 40 Unimog lorries.

Chinese ammunition

Ethiopia has been buying from China, which completed a major ammunition contract last year and is now fulfilling a repeat order.

Bulgaria has supplied over 100 T-55 tanks, and more material is on order.

[ image: Ethiopians say they found this grenade near the battle zone]
Ethiopians say they found this grenade near the battle zone
Ethiopia was in negotiation last year with an Israeli company to upgrade and refurbish 50 mothballed MiG-21 and MiG-23 fighters.

Agreement was reached but then delayed because of Eritrean complaints - Israel wants to remain friendly to both countries. The deal has now been postponed.

In the meantime, Ethiopia has acquired its Sukhoi fighters, and a team of at least 100 Russian technicians, part of whose job is get some of the older MiGs back into the air. France has supplied communications equipment.

Libyan funding

Funding has been difficult for both sides as most of the new equipment has had to be paid for cash in advance, though there have been reports that Ethiopia may have bartered coffee with China.

Branwen Jeffreys reports on where the arms are coming from
Eritrea is getting funds from Libya and the Gulf, particularly Qatar. It is also raising funds from treasury bonds and from Eritreans in the diaspora.

A recent meeting in London demanded pledges of £500 per person to support the war. The latest money raising effort is the raffling of 300 houses in Asmara, with a $500 registration fee for taking part.

Ethiopia has increased its military budget, and it, too, is raising money from Ethiopians abroad, and using "voluntary" donations locally to provide for food and medical supplies for the troops.

It has been estimated that each side is spending a million dollars a day. But this is likely to be a considerable under-estimate.

The aircraft bought in December reportedly cost Eritrea $150m, and Ethiopia $160m, but overall costs of the deals, which included pilots and technicians, must have been rather larger, even though the planes were second hand.

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