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The BBC's Sam Whipple
"It is a humanitarian challenge neither country can afford"
 real 28k

The BBC's Ishbel Matheson in Addis Ababa
"The Ethiopians have captured back all the territory occupied by the Eritreans"
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Wednesday, 31 May, 2000, 20:42 GMT 21:42 UK
Ethiopia says 'war is over'

Ethiopia has said its two-year-old border war with Eritrea is over, as both countries pursue peace talks through mediators in Algeria.

Ethiopia's Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, told diplomats in Addis Ababa on Wednesday that "as far as Ethiopia is concerned, the war is over today".

Mr Meles said Ethiopia was now ready to work for a lasting regional peace.

But he warned that the Ethiopian army was free to "take any action if there is any provocation from Eritrea".

They can't say the war is over when they still occupy sovereign Eritrean territory

Yemane Gebremeskel

Ethiopian forces captured large swathes of Eritrean territory in a major ground and air offensive launched on 12 May.

Tens of thousands of soldiers have died since the fighting first started in May 1998.

Eritrean response

Ethiopian troops in Zalambessa
Ethiopian troops captured the strategically important town of Zalambessa last week

The Eritrean Government insisted on Wednesday that the war would end only when Ethiopia pulled back from all undisputed Eritrean land taken in the latest fighting.

"They can't say the war is over when they still occupy sovereign Eritrean territory," Eritrean presidential spokesman Yemane Gebremeskel said.

Mr Meles said Ethiopian troops would maintain the positions they had captured around the strategically important town of Zalambessa until Ethiopia received guarantees of security from the international community.

He said Ethiopia had verified that all the disputed areas had been cleared of Eritrean troops - the final verification took place on Wednesday morning at Bada in the east.

Peace talks

Diplomatic sources in Addis Ababa welcomed Mr Meles's announcement as a positive development which would help the peace talks between Eritrea and Ethiopia in Algeria.

"The conflict has to be resolved through negotiations and dialogue. What we now face is difficult negotiations," Mr Meles said.

In the Algerian capital, Algiers, the two nations' foreign ministers are negotiating indirectly through mediators over a four-point accord that could end the border war.

The two delegations have refused to take part in any face-to-face negotiations.

Ethiopia pull-out confirmed

Earlier on Wednesday, Eritrea's Yemane Gebremeskel confirmed that Ethiopian troops were withdrawing from western Eritrea.

His confirmation came as diplomats at the peace talks expressed optimism that a ceasefire agreement could be signed very soon.

Eritrean artillery firing
Diplomats in Algeria are confident that a ceasefire agreement will be signed soon

Mr Gebremeskel said Ethiopian troops had withdrawn from two main towns, Barentu and Tessenay.

He did not confirm that Ethiopian troops had completely left Eritrean territory, however.

The town of Tessenay is close to the border with Sudan while Barentu was taken soon after the Ethiopians launched their offensive some three weeks ago.

The Eritrean army withdrew hurriedly from the west and tens of thousands of civilians fled the area.

On Tuesday, the United Nations Security Council and the United States called on Ethiopia to end its offensive, with the US saying that Eritrea had withdrawn from all the disputed areas.

The first stages of a peace plan drawn up by the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) call for a ceasefire and withdrawal by both sides to positions held before the war first began in May 1998.

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See also:

31 May 00 | Africa
Ethiopia spurns UN appeal
29 May 00 | Africa
Ethiopia hits Asmara airport
25 May 00 | Africa
Peace at last?
26 May 00 | Africa
Neighbours lament Horn war
28 May 00 | Media reports
Ethiopian president hails victories
12 May 00 | Battle in the Horn
Border a geographer's nightmare
24 May 00 | Africa
War and drought in the Horn
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