Conflict becomes full-scale war as nine tanks claimed


Eritrea said it destroyed nine Ethiopian tanks yesterday in repulsing a major ground offensive by Ethiopia, apparently the heaviest fighting between the two sides in their border conflict this year.

However, an Ethiopian government spokeswoman, Ms Selome Taddesse, said Eritrean claims about the destruction of its tanks were a "total fabrication".

The attack, in which Ethiopian ground troops pushed across no-man's-land towards Eritrean trenches, started early yesterday morning and was preceded by an Ethiopian barrage using artillery and war planes for much of Monday.

Fighting between the Horn of Africa neighbours resumed on February 6th in the Badme area along the Mereb-Setit rivers after an eight-month lull. It then spread to two other fronts.

"Eritrea has repulsed two waves of Ethiopian attacks at the Mereb-Setit front," Eritrean spokesman Yermane Gebremeskel said in Asmara. "It appears that its [Ethiopia's] offensive is more of a mechanised attack this time."

Ethiopia is trying to regain contested territory at Badme, which Eritrea occupied during the first round of the border war in May last year.

"The war will keep on escalating as long as Eritrea remains in our territory," Ms Taddesse said earlier. She said Ethiopian planes and artillery had inflicted heavy losses on Eritrea in the last two days, but Eritrea said Ethiopia's bombardment had been ineffective.

Both sides said there were skirmishes on a second front at Tsorona, east of Badme. There were no details of a third front southwest of the strategic Eritrean Red Sea port of Assab.