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The BBC's Kathleen Hyland
"It is a rapid advance that has the United States taking no chances"
 real 28k

The BBC's Cathy Jenkins in Asmara
"Hundreds of students were gathering for national service"
 real 28k

The BBC's Peter Biles in Addis Ababa
"Focus now is on the movement eastwards by Ethiopian forces"
 real 28k

Monday, 22 May, 2000, 18:57 GMT 19:57 UK
Ethiopia rejects end to offensive

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has rejected appeals to call an end to his troops' 10-day-old invasion of Eritrea to allow for peace talks.

"Experience shows that as far as Eritrea is concerned the stick is a least as important in convincing them as any other thing," Mr Meles said as diplomats shuttled between the two capitals tryng to halt the fighting.



We shall negotiate while we fight and we shall fight while we negotiate

Ethiopian PM Meles Zenawi

His comments came as thousands of Eritreans took part in a demonstration in the capital, Asmara, calling for an end to the Ethiopian invasion.

Waving banners, the demonstrators demanded that the United Nations condemn Ethiopia for its military action on 12 May, which re-ignited the two-year-old border war.

Meanwhile, reports are emerging of fighting in the far south-west of Eritrea, despite earlier reports that the Ethiopian army had crushed the Eritrean forces in the area.

Military situation

An Eritrean government spokesman, Yemane Gebremeskel, denied claims that Ethiopia had captured the western border town of Om Hajer, near the Sudanese border.

Eritrean women in Asmara
Eritreans have been praying for peace

And reports of fighting in the surrounding region suggest that Eritrean troops are still active there, despite the evacuation of the town of Barentu and its surroundings.

Ethiopian advances north and east of Om Hajer suggest that any Eritrean troops in the area could be effectively cut off from the rest of the Eritrean army.

Ethiopia said on Sunday that the Eritrean army had abandoned its main military training centre in the western town of Sawa, north of Teseney, after repeated bombing raids by the Ethiopian air force.

It was an establishment which the Eritreans, who spoke instead of a tactical withdrawal, regarded with great pride.

Thousands of civilians from western Eritrea are known to have crossed into Sudan to escape the Ethiopian advances.

Diplomacy

On the diplomatic front, EU envoy Rino Serri has held talks in Asmara with President Isaias Afwerki. He has now gone to the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

As he left Eritrea, he said his peace mission had only just begun, and he would probably return to Asmara on Tuesday.

Mr Serri told journalists that he hoped his efforts would create conditions for the two sides to restart proximity talks - the last round broke down in early May with Ethiopia accusing Eritrea of imposing unacceptable pre-conditions.

Ethiopian soldiers near captured Barentu
Ethiopian soldiers near captured Barentu

The OAU envoy, Ahmed Ouyahia, was due to make the reverse journey, going on to Asmara after meeting Mr Meles on Sunday.

Elsewhere in Asmara, hundreds of students gathered to be enroled for national service - the university shut down last week with students saying that they wanted to go and fight.

Anniversary

Meanwhile, muted celebrations began ahead of the official anniversary on Wednesday of Eritrea's independence from Ethiopia seven years ago.

Eritrean victims of the Ethiopian offensive
Eritrean victims of the Ethiopian offensive
"It is really a show of defiance more than a celebration of independence," a Western diplomat said.

But banners and bunting were hung across the streets and there were recitals of traditional music.

Ethiopian troops are reportedly within 96km of Asmara, but have halted what earlier appeared to be an advance towards the city.

A BBC correspondent in Addis Ababa said on Sunday that the focus of attention was now on the Ethiopian advance towards the key town of Mendefera, south of Asmara.

The declared aim of Ethiopia's offensive is to destroy the Eritrean military completely in order to end the war along their common border.

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See also:

22 May 00 | Africa
Ethiopia's next move
18 May 00 | Africa
Asmara fears the worst
19 May 00 | Africa
Victory on the back of a donkey
18 May 00 | Africa
Will arms ban slow war?
16 May 00 | Africa
Arms flood to Horn conflict
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