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Monday, June 15, 1998 Published at 00:38 GMT 01:38 UK

World: Africa

Ethiopia, Eritrea move to end border war

Ethiopian soldier with a rocket launcher

The BBC's Cathy Jenkins: "This is the first breakthrough for mediators trying to help end the conflict"
Ethiopia and Eritrea have agreed to halt any further air strikes on each other's territory while they continue efforts to find a solution to their border conflict.

A statement issued in Washington said the agreement would remain in place until either side felt there were no further prospects for peace.

[ image: Eritrean Coptic Christans pray for peace in Asmara]
Eritrean Coptic Christans pray for peace in Asmara
The border conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea began in May but escalated earlier this month when both sides launched air raids, causing a number of civilian casualties.

The White House statement thanked the Italian government for its diplomatic efforts which had helped to secure the agreement to halt the use of airstrikes. An American diplomatic official said President Clinton had been in telephone contact with the Ethiopian and Eritrean leaders on Sunday night.

[ image: The disputed border area]
The disputed border area
There were no reports of hostilities on Sunday, at the three fronts the border - in Zalambesa, Badme, and inland from the strategically important Eritrean port of Assab.

Ethiopia says it has killed or wounded nearly 11,000 Eritrean soldiers - a claim described as greatly exaggerated by diplomatic sources.

Eritrean officials, meanwhile, say Ethiopia has rounded up large numbers of Eritreans ready for expulsion. Ethiopia has denied the charge.

Diplomatic efforts

Earlier, a team of American officials met the Eritrean President, Isayas Aferwerki, after holding talks in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

They said there was willingness on the part of both sides to engage with a third party to find a solution.

The Rwandan Vice-President, Paul Kagame, also met the Eritrean leadership on Friday.

A delegation of four regional leaders - the Presidents of Burkino Faso, Rwanda, Djibouti and Zimbabwe - was due to start mediation efforts this week under the umbrella of the Organisation of African Unity.

Diplomats have expressed concern at the continued build-up of troops by both sides.

Ethiopia has repeated its refusal to enter direct negotiations until Eritrea withdraws its troops from the disputed area.

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