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The BBC's Fiona Werge
"It looks like an end to a long war"
 real 28k

Yemane Ghebremeskel, Eritirean government spokesman
"It is not a rout"
 real 28k

Salome Taddesse, Ethiopean government spokesman
"They were trashed, they were kicked out, they were destroyed"
 real 28k

Thursday, 25 May, 2000, 13:41 GMT 14:41 UK
Ethiopia celebrates 'victory'
Eritrean prisoners of war
Many Eritreans have been killed or captured
Thousands of jubilant Ethiopians are out on the streets of their capital celebrating the news that Ethiopian troops have captured a key town in the disputed border area.

The celebrations began shortly after national radio announced that the Ethiopian flag was now flying over Zalambessa and Eritrean forces had been routed.


Zalambessa
Zalambessa has been the scene of heavy fighting
Schoolchildren waved the red, gold, and green flags of Ethiopia and soldiers in uniform joined in the celebrations.

Eritrea earlier said its decision to withdraw its troops from lands seized at the start of the border war two years ago was made in the interests of peace, and was not a military defeat.

Eritrean troops have been in retreat in recent days after Ethiopian forces broke through their lines and advanced deep into Eritrea.

Jubilation

People waved flags in Meskel Square in the centre of Addis Ababa to celebrate what the Ethiopians say is the most significant and decisive victory in the war with Eritrea.

Motorists sounded their horns in a mood of spontaneous celebration.



Eritrea has decided, for the sake of peace, to accept the OAU's appeal

Eritrean Government
A BBC correspondent in Addis Ababa, Rageh Omaar, said the scenes were ones of genuine jubilation.

He said schools have been closed to celebrate what the Ethiopians are describing as a "victory day."

The Ethiopian authorities are taking western journalists up to Zalambessa to prove that they have captured the town.

"After the Ethiopian blitzkrieg of the last two days, the Eritrean army was demolished at midnight," said government spokeswoman Selome Taddesse.


Eritrean 'withdrawal'

An Eritrean Government statement announcing the retreat came from the foreign ministry in Asmara, after a request from the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).

"Eritrea has decided, for the sake of peace, to accept the OAU's appeal for de-escalation," the statement said.

"Eritrea has decided to redeploy its forces to positions held before 6 May 1998," the ministry said.

Ethiopia said on Wednesday that its armed forces had broken through Eritrea's bunker and strongholds around Zalambessa - a claim denied at the time by the Eritrean Government.

Eritrea, which celebrated the anniversary of its 1993 independence from Ethiopia on Wednesday, seized Zalambessa and other land along the border in 1998, saying the area was Eritrean under old colonial-era boundaries.


Eritrean soldier
Eritrea says it is prepared to stop fighting unless Ethiopia fires
An Eritrean Government spokesman, Yemane Ghebremeskel, said Eritrea was going the extra mile to try to achieve peace, but did not expect Ethiopia to match its move and so the war would go on. He said that Eritrea would continue to defend itself if necessary.

Peace efforts

The BBC's East Africa correspondent, Cathy Jenkins, says there is no doubt that Eritrea has been under enormous pressure since Ethiopia launched its new offensive.

The Eritrean statement follows intensive peace efforts by Algerian President and OAU chairman Abdelaziz Bouteflika who is currently in Asmara on a mission to stop the war.

He is due to meet Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki.

The OAU called on both sides to resume the peace negotiations that had broken down in Algiers on 5 May, but to first pull their troops back to positions held before conflict first broke out on 6 May, 1998.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan welcomed Eritrea's response to the OAU appeal, and also urged Ethiopia "to respond positively to the OAU appeal in order to bring about an immediate end to hostilities".

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25 May 00 | Media reports
The radio war in the Horn
25 May 00 | Africa
Peace at last?
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