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The BBC's Peter Biles in Addis Ababa
"Eritrea has undoubtedly suffered intense humiliation in recent days"
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The BBC's Cathy Jenkins in Asmara
"A US embassy official said the evacuation was a precaution"
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Saturday, 20 May, 2000, 06:29 GMT 07:29 UK
US diplomats leave Eritrea
The war multiplies the sufferings brought by drought
American diplomats are being evacuated from Eritrea as Ethiopian troops advance deeper into the country.

(Kofi Annan) finds it tragic that, under such circumstances, a large-scale military effort continues

UN Secretary-general's spokesman

A statement issued by the Ethiopian Government in Addis Ababa said that its troops now controlled the town of Madima and reported fresh bombing raids on targets deep inside Eritrea.

The capture of Madima would bring Ethiopian troops within 50km (30 miles) of the key town of Mendefera, and 100km (62 miles) south-west of the capital, Asmara.

Ethiopean troops
Ethiopean troops are advancing
Hundreds of thousands of civilians are fleeing ahead of the Ethiopian offensive, which has prompted a fresh United Nations call for an immediate halt to fighting.

The United States on Friday ordered the evacuation from Eritrea of non-essential US diplomats and dependants of all embassy personnel.

Last week the State Department authorised voluntary departures of some US diplomats from the area.

"US citizens are urged to depart the country while commercial transportation is available," the State Department said in a statement.

It acknowledged that the fighting - which until recently had been confined to the border area - had spread into Eritrea.

There is no independent confirmation of the latest claims from Addis Ababa, but Ethiopia's recent official statements on the military situation have been largely reliable.

Ethiopia's airforce also conducted bombing raids on the Eritrean coast, near the main port of Massawa, on Friday.

Annan's appeal

The UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, said millions of Ethiopians and Eritreans were already in urgent need of assistance because of the severe drought in the region, and the upsurge in fighting made their situation worse.

Eritrean POWs
Hundreds of Eritrean soldiers were taken prisoner
According to Mr Annan's spokesman, he "finds it tragic that, under such circumstances, a large-scale military effort continues."

Mr Annan backed an initiative to bring "an immediate and mutual halt in fighting and a resumption of talks leading to a complete restoration of peace," his spokesman, Fred Eckhard, said.

Ethiopia's declared aim is to destroy the Eritrean military completely in order to end the two-year conflict along their common border.

The Eritrean Government, which has not confirmed the latest Ethiopian claims, has accused Ethiopia of expanding the war and creating a wave of refugees.

The Eritrean authorities are preparing temporary camps to cope with the displaced people.

Observers believe the next 48 hours in this conflict could be crucial as Ethiopian forces strive to cut off vast numbers of Eritrean troops deployed on the border.

The Organisation of African Unity has appealed for an immediate ceasefire and a resumption of the peace process. But all the indications at present are that Ethiopia is intent on pursuing its military objectives.

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