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Monday, 8 October, 2001, 12:13 GMT 13:13 UK
Eritrea denies preparing for war
UN monitor
The ceasefire has held for over a year
Eritrea has rejected Ethiopian accusations that it is preparing to re-ignite the border war.

A senior official of the Eritrean Foreign Ministry described the Ethiopian statement as "a sheer lie", says Eritrean radio.

Ethiopian Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin had told ambassadors from the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council that the Eritrean army was on a state of high alert and that troops had already been dispatched to the disputed border area.

But the United Nations mission that monitors a transitional security zone between the two countries says it has no evidence that Eritrea is preparing for war.

Tense

The unnamed official told Voice of the Broad Masses of Eritrea radio station that Eritrea was working hard for the implementation of the 2000 Algiers ceasefire agreement and that it would continue to do so.

Zalambessa
Casualties were high during the border conflict

Both countries have respected the Algiers agreement which halted their two-year-old border war but tensions between the two countries remain high.

Both countries' ruling parties have faced internal political dissent since the end of hostilities resulting in crackdowns, arrests and defections.

And there is a feeling that any heightened state of alert on the border could be a convenient distraction for both heads of state and in particular Eritrea's President Isaias Afewerki.

Eritrean dissent

Within Eritrea, thousands of students are returning to their classes on Monday to begin a new year, following a summer spent in a compulsory work camp.

Two students died of heatstroke as temperatures soared in the camp near the Red Sea port of Assab.

The Eritrean Government has been coming under increasing criticism regarding its harsh treatment of the students, who have been supporting calls for openness within the ruling party and for elections.

A BBC correspondent in Asmara says the capital has changed dramatically during their recess, with government critics being jailed and the free press closed down.

In August, police detained about 400 students who had agitated against the compulsory work programme, including the student leader Samere Kesete.

In September, 11 former members of Eritrea's Government were arrested after criticising Mr Afewerki's handling of the war with Ethiopia.

At the same time, several journalists were detained and privately-run newspapers were shut down.

See also:

23 Sep 01 | Africa
Ethiopia-Eritrea truce worries UN
20 Jun 01 | Africa
Eritrea reveals human cost of war
02 Oct 01 | Africa
Eritrea plays down diplomatic row
25 Apr 01 | Africa
Tough return for Eritreans
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