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Tuesday, March 16, 1999 Published at 21:07 GMT


World: Africa

Hundreds killed in Horn

Fighting resumed at the weekend after a two-week lull

By Alex Last in Asmara

The scene at Velessa on the Tsorona frontline, south of Eritrea's capital Asmara, provided gruesome evidence of the fierce fighting over the last two days.

Ethiopia - Eritrea conflict
I and other journalists visited a section of the front, some 200 metres in length, on Tuesday.

At least 300 Ethiopian soldiers lay on and around the Eritrean trenches, killed as they reached their first objective.


Alex Last: "The biggest conventional war in the world"
The defence had been desperate - Eritrean soldiers said they had sometimes had to resort to hand-to-hand fighting.

In the scrubby no-man's land, which stretches some 3km back to Ethiopian positions, lay more Ethiopian corpses and burning remnants of the Ethiopian mechanised attack.


[ image:  ]
More than 20 Ethiopian tanks, one armoured personnel carrier and two bulldozers could be seen in an area the size of a football pitch.

Some of the tanks had been destroyed just yards from the frontline. The line though did not appear to be breached.

The Eritrean commander said his forces had not had enough time to count the Ethiopian dead or the total number of tanks destroyed, although he said he had counted 45 tanks so far.

He said the scene along the front was the same for the next 5km.

Rotting corpses

On Monday, the Ethiopian Government dismissed as ridiculous Eritrea's claims that it had inflicted heavy losses on the Ethiopian army.

Fighting stopped on the Tsorona front early on Tuesday morning, although intermittent artillery and heavy machine gunfire continued during the day.

The Eritrean soldiers were in jubilant mood, relaxing by the trenches, despite the small tissues stuffed up their noses to block the smell of the Ethiopian corpses.

The Eritrean commander said Eritrean losses were very light compared to the Ethiopian casualties.

There is still no ceasefire, nor any agreement to end the war between the two neighbours.



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