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Saturday, 29 June, 2002, 18:42 GMT 19:42 UK
Fighting on Ethiopia-Sudan border
Ethiopian soldiers marching near the Eritrean border
The Ethiopian army says it is in control

Fighting has broken out along the Ethiopian-Sudanese border between the Ethiopian army and forces loyal to an armed separatist movement, the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF).

Ethiopian Army Commander Major General Bacha Debele told the BBC that the fighting started on Friday when OLF forces attempted to cross the Sudanese border at Jikawo into Ethiopia.

This is the second battle which has taken place between the OLF and government forces in the last two weeks.

The OLF evolved from a political party into an armed movement nine years ago, claiming that the rights of the Oromo people - who make up almost 40% of Ethiopia's 65 million - were not being respected.

The OLF are now fighting Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's government for the independence of the Oromia region from the rest of Ethiopia.

Major operations

General Debele said the fighting had broken out when about 170 OLF soldiers attempted to cross the Sudanese border.

The commander, who is co-ordinating the counter-offensive in western Ethiopia, claimed that the Ethiopian army had already scored major victories against the insurgents.

Prime Minister Meles Zenawi
Zenawi opposes Oromo secession
He said that army units stationed at the border had already killed two OLF soldiers and captured seven others in the most recent clashes.

The general added that fighting was now continuing in the surrounding areas of Gidami and Wellega, some 30 kilometres from the border with Sudan.

On 18 June, the OLF stepped up its military offensive and intense fighting took place in Akobo, Gambella, in western Ethiopia.

The OLF claimed that they had "put out of operation" about 675 Ethiopian soldiers - killing 425 and wounding 250.

Ethiopia says it killed 20 OLF fighters and wounded another 227. 'Arms seized'

General Debele, however, scoffed at the OLF claims.

"The OLF are always lying. There is no way that they could have killed so many of our soldiers. They simply do not have the means and capabilities to destroy so many members of our army," he said.

He said the army had also seized Kalashnikov and G3 assault rifles, five rocket propelled grenade launchers, 12 anti-tank landmines, and several sets of long- and medium-range radio communication sets.

The commander accused Eritrea, with whom Ethiopia is emerging from a two-and-a-half year border conflict, of arming and supporting the OLF fighters and other armed opposition movements.

'Eritrean backing'

According to General Debele, the captured OLF fighters were interrogated and had explained that they had come from Eritrea where they were trained by the Eritrean army at the Sawa military camp.

He said that they then had been told to cross the long and porous Sudanese border and enter into Ethiopia.

He added that most of the OLF fighters were Ethiopian refugees, and a few Ethiopian army soldiers who had defected and been recruited by the OLF and sent to Eritrea.

He said that they had been "deceived" by OLF leaders and the Eritrean Government who had promised to send them to the United States, but instead had sent them back to infiltrate Ethiopia and hamper peace in the country.

See also:

08 May 02 | Africa
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