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Saturday, February 13, 1999 Published at 19:51 GMT

World: Africa

Eritrea denies '7,000 casualties'

The two sides say the war has caused more than 11,000 casualties

Eritrea has denied Ethiopian reports that as many as 7,000 Eritrean troops have been killed or wounded since fighting flared a week ago.

An Eritrean presidential spokesman, quoted on state radio, described statements by the Ethiopian Government on Friday as a pack of lies.

There has been no independent confirmation of the figures or earlier claims by Eritrea to have killed at least 1,500 Ethiopian soldiers and wounded a further 3,000.

The Ethiopian Government figures were its first assessment of the scale of the fighting.

A statement broadcast on Ethiopian radio did not make clear how many were killed and how many were wounded.

Eritrean President Isayas Afwerki said on Friday that "truth would prevail" in the border dispute with Ethiopia and was confident his forces could withstand anything their giant neighbour threw against them.

He said he said he would not be surprised if Ethiopia attempted an invasion on a third front - near the southern Red Sea port of Assab - after suffering heavy defeats near Badme and Zalambessa.

At the United Nations this week, each side blamed the other for the conflict, despite a UN appeal for a ceasefire.

Arms embargo

The Security Council has called for an international arms embargo on both sides. The first round of fighting last May and June claimed at least a thousand lives.

The Eritrean Government has denied responsibility for the border war with Ethiopia and said it has a "legitimate right to defend itself" in the face of Ethiopian attacks.

[ image: A grief-stricken Eritrean woman mourns relatives]
A grief-stricken Eritrean woman mourns relatives
The Eritrean Foreign Ministry said it would recognise United Nations demands for an immediate ceasefire, but denied its armed forces had carried out air raids or harassed civilians.

"Eritrea has not carried out any air strike. It has not violated the [air strike] moratorium. If it is attacked, its right to respond should be respected," a statement said.

It said the UN proposal for a voluntary international arms embargo on both sides would increase instability in the region.

'Unwanted war'

[ image:  ]
Ethiopian Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin said his country had no option but to continue fighting Eritrean forces until they left the disputed border area.

Simmering border tensions erupted at the weekend, after an eight-month unofficial ceasefire. Both sides have said they have inflicted heavy casualties in the increasingly bitter war.

Addis Ababa warned Eritrea to evacuate its civilians from front-line border zones after five Eritrean civilians were reported killed during air raids on Tuesday.

Ethiopia said it regretted the deaths, but the Eritrean authorities should not have "positioned civilians so close to the hostile border for any length of time".

The US Government has urged all its nationals to leave Eritrea and to consider leaving Ethiopia.

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