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The BBC's Jim Fish
"The conflict has confounded all efforts to broker peace"
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East Africa correspondent Cathy Jenkins
"Territory is only one of the issues"
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Friday, 12 May, 2000, 11:12 GMT 12:12 UK
Battle rages in the Horn
Ethiopian officers near Zalambessa
Ethiopia wants to regain territory at Zalambessa
Eritrea and Ethiopia have resumed heavy fighting on at least two fronts along their disputed border, following the collapse of peace talks this week.

Fighting has taken place on the Mereb-Setit front, near the village of Badme near the western end of the border and around the town of Zalambessa in the central part of the front line.

There are unconfirmed reports that fighting has also spread to the area around Bure, on the eastern front near the Eritrean port of Assab.



The war has been on-going since Eritrea's invasion due to the Isaias regime's unwillingness to negotiate a peaceful resolution of the conflict

Ethiopian statement
Zalambessa is currently in Eritrean hands, but Ethiopia - which held Zalambessa before the war broke out - regards it as part of its sovereign territory.

Eritrea says Ethiopia launched an offensive early on Friday morning in the Mereb-Setit area.

Ethiopia has not commented on which side started the current round of fighting, but blames Eritrea for starting the war by moving its troops onto Ethiopian-controlled territory two years ago.

Warplanes



In preparation for its impending war of aggression, the [Ethiopian] TPLF regime obstructed the OAU peace process for the last nine months

Eritrean statement
Eritrean warplanes have been seen patrolling the skies around the capital, Asmara.

An Eritrean Government spokesman told the BBC that the fighting was the heaviest for more than a year, and said Ethiopia was launching fresh "human wave" assaults.



The Mereb-Setit front line has seen some of the worst fighting in the bloody two-year conflict, which began when Eritrean troops moved into disputed territory in the area.

In the first half of 1999, at least 10,000 troops are believed to have died as Ethiopia recaptured Badme from the Eritreans.

Talks collapse

The fighting comes just two days after a United Nations Security Council delegation warned of a return to war, following a failed last-ditch attempt to persuade the two sides to abide by a peace deal to which they had agreed in principle.

But Ethiopian Government spokesperson Salome Tadesse said the outbreak of fighting was not connected to the failure of the talks.

"There is always a chance for a peaceful solution," she said, adding that this was dependent on Eritrea withdrawing from territory occupied during the war.

The Eritrean foreign ministry said Ethiopia had obstructed peace talks "preparation for its impending war of aggression".

Ethiopia and Eritrea differ over the terms for the implementation of the deal, and each side accuses the other of not wanting to make peace.



If there were renewed conflict, there would certainly be more deaths than in Sierra Leone and the Congo put together

UK Ambassador to the UN Jeremy Greenstock
The leader of the delegation, US ambassador Richard Holbrooke, said if there was a resumption of hostilities it would "immediately constitute the largest war on the African continent".

He added that a diplomatic solution was as far away as ever.

A draft Security Council resolution warning the two sides not to drift back to war is to be discussed on Friday.

It recalls that both have committed to the peace deal devised by the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and urges them to resume talks.

Famine

The conflict, which began in 1998, has cost tens of thousands of lives and displaced hundreds of thousands of civilians.

For almost a year fighting has been confined to a few isolated episodes.

But both sides have continued to build up forces along their borders and have as many as 750,000 troops stationed in trenches.

The continuing famine in the region - with southern Ethiopia the hardest hit - has prompted renewed calls for an end to the war.

Fighting has been blamed for hindering the supply of food aid, and draining the countries' coffers of money which could otherwise be used for development.

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11 May 00 | Africa
EU presses for Horn peace deal
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