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The BBC's Peter Biles in Zalambessa
"Ethiopia says fighting with Eritrean forces is still going on not far from here"
 real 28k

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

Friday, 26 May, 2000, 06:34 GMT 07:34 UK
Ethiopians mark key victory
Zalambessa
Two years of fighting have left Zalambessa in ruins
Hundreds of Ethiopian soldiers are celebrating victory in the border town of Zalambessa, following its recapture from Eritrean forces.

The BBC's Peter Biles, who has been to Zalambessa - says the town is in complete ruins.

But he says soldiers staged a flag raising ceremony for the benefit of the media, then ran through the town, chanting and cheering.

Eritrean soldiers
Eritrea has withdrawn its army from Zalambessa

Some of the fiercest battles of the two-year-old conflict have been fought over the heavily-fortified central border town, which was seized by Eritrea when war broke out in May 1998.

News that the Ethiopian flag was flying over the town sparked further jubilant celebrations in the capital, Addis Ababa.

The Ethiopian Government said Eritrean forces had been routed at Zalambessa.

But it said its military campaign would continue until it had verified that the Eritrean army had withdrawn from all disputed territory.

Eritrea said it had pulled its army back to the pre-war border, in line with a peace initiative by the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).


Ethiopia is now believed to have recaptured all of the disputed territory on the western and central parts of the front line, but Eritrea continues to occupied disputed lands in the east.

Ethiopian Government spokeswoman Selome Taddesse said that fighting would not stop until "all our territory has been liberated" and until the Eritrean army no longer posed a threat.

Ethiopia has always insisted that peace talks can only begin once Eritrea has retreated from the land it occupied in 1998.

Fighting continues

Fighting continued on Thursday in the Tsorona area to the west of Zalambessa.



The war will end when all of our territory has been liberated

Ethiopian Government spokeswoman Selome Taddesse
A BBC correspondent in northern Ethiopia saw Ethiopian tanks and fighter jets heading towards the border.

After taking Zalambessa on Wednesday night, Ethiopian forces are believed to have pushed north, pursuing Eritrean troops into Eritrean territory.

Ethiopia has in the past fortnight also occupied large tracts of Eritrean territory in the west.

Conditions

Ethiopia has indicated that it will not withdraw from these areas until it can verify that Eritrea has withdrawn from the disputed border region around Bure in the east.

Although Eritrea has expressed a commitment to withdrawing from the disputed regions, it is unclear how and when this will happen.

Bure is in a remote desert region, and it will be difficult to verify when Eritrea has indeed retreated to the positions it held before the war.

Eritrea insists it has not surrendered, and that it withdrew from Zalambessa - which it first occupied in 1998 - to hasten the implementation of an Organisation of African Unity peace plan.

Peace efforts

Algerian President and OAU chairman Abdelaziz Bouteflika met Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki on Thursday to discuss ways of ending the war.

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 | Africa
Celebrations in Addis Ababa
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