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DATE=2/17/99 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT NUMBER=2-245634 TITLE=ETHIOPIA / ERITREA FRONT (L ONLY) BYLINE=SCOTT STEARNS DATELINE=TSORONA CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: WITH REGIONAL MEDIATORS TRYING TO BRING A CEASEFIRE IN THE BORDER WAR BETWEEN ETHIOPIA AND ERITREA, BOTH COUNTRIES ARE REINFORCING POSITIONS ALONG THEIR BORDER. V-O-A CORRESPONDENT SCOTT STEARNS IS AT THE ETHIOPIAN FRONT, WHERE HE REPORTS THERE IS MORE TALK OF WAR THAN OF PEACE. TEXT: UNDER COVER OF DARKNESS, THOUSANDS OF ETHIOPIAN TROOPS MARCH TOWARD THE FRONT FOR WHAT THEIR OFFICERS SAY WILL BE THE SECOND PHASE OF ETHIOPIA'S COUNTEROFFENSIVE AGAINST ERITREA. WHEN ERITREAN TROOPS CROSSED THE BORDER LAST MAY, RECLAIMING LAND THEY SAY IS RIGHTFULLY ERITREAN, ETHIOPIA WAS CAUGHT OFF GUARD. IT TOOK WEEKS FOR ETHIOPIA TO REINFORCE THE FRONT AND STOP ERITREA'S PUSH SOUTH. THIS TIME, ETHIOPIAN OFFICERS SAY THEY ARE READY TO RETAKE LAND THAT, BEFORE LAST MAY, WAS ADMINISTERED BY ETHIOPIA. IN A COLUMN OF MORE THAN FOUR-THOUSAND MEN MARCHING SINGLE FILE ALONG A DUSTY RIDGE IN NORTHERN TIGRAY PROVINCE, ETHIOPIAN SOLDIER TESFAE AYELE SAYS ERITREA WILL NOT TAKE THEM BY SURPRISE AGAIN. /// AYELE ACT - FADE UNDER /// HE SAYS ERITREA INVADED ETHIOPIA BECAUSE IT HAS ECONOMIC PROBLEMS. SO, WE HAVE COME TO DEFEND OUR TERRITORY. IT IS THE FIRST TIME IN COMBAT FOR SOLDIER YOHANNES KABEDE, WHO WAS RECRUITED EIGHT MONTHS AGO AND NOW SAYS HE IS HAPPY TO FINALLY BE HEADING TO THE FRONT. /// KABEDE ACT - FADE UNDER /// MR. KABEDE SAYS ETHIOPIANS ARE READY TO DEFEND OUR TERRITORY. FOR US, WE ARE HERE BECAUSE OF THE ERITREANS, NOT BECAUSE WE WANT WAR. WHEN ERITREA DECLARED ITS INDEPENDENCE IN 1993, MR. KABEDE SAYS HE NEVER IMAGINED THERE WOULD BE WAR BETWEEN THESE FORMER ALLIES WHO FOUGHT SIDE BY SIDE BY AGAINST ETHIOPIAN LEADER MENGISTU HAILE MARIAM. BUT INDEPENDENCE BROUGHT TERRITORIAL RIVALRIES AND ECONOMIC JEALOUSIES ACROSS THE BORDER. ETHIOPIA INVESTED HEAVILY IN TIGRAY PROVINCE, THREATENING ERITREAN COMMERCIAL INTERESTS. WHEN ERITREA UNVEILED ITS OWN CURRENCY, ETHIOPIA REFUSED TO ACCEPT IT ONE-TO-ONE AGAINST THE ETHIOPIAN BIRR. SOLDIER IMIR MELAKWI SAYS IT IS A WAR MORE ABOUT MONEY THAN LAND. /// MELAKWI ACT - FADE UNDER /// HE SAYS THERE IS A MISUNDERSTANDING ON BOTH SIDES BECAUSE OF ERITREA'S ECONOMIC JEALOUSY OF ETHIOPIA'S DEVELOPMENT. HE SAYS ERITREA HAS BEEN PREPARING FOR WAR FOR THE PAST SEVEN YEARS WHILE ETHIOPIANS WERE TRYING TO DEVELOP THEIR COUNTRY. REGIONAL MEDIATORS ARE TRYING TO ARRANGE A CEASEFIRE IN THE WAR. BUT SO FAR, BOTH COUNTRIES SEEM DETERMINED TO CONTINUE THE FIGHT. ERITREA WANTS INTERNATIONAL MONITORS IN THE DISPUTED AREAS BEFORE WITHDRAWING ITS FORCES. ETHIOPIA WANTS THOSE TROOPS OUT AND LOCAL ETHIOPIAN AUTHORITY RESTORED BEFORE ANY FORMAL PEACE TALKS. // OPT // MARCHING TO THE FRONT WITH A ROCKET PROPELLED GRENADE LAUNCHER OVER HIS SHOULDER, ETHIOPIAN SOLDIER KASOU MAHARI SAYS THERE HAS BEEN ENOUGH TALK ABOUT PEACE. /// MAHARI ACT - FADE UNDER - OPT /// AFTER ERITREA INVADED OUR COUNTRY LAST MAY, HE SAYS, WE WERE TRYING TO SOLVE THIS PROBLEM PEACEFULLY. BUT HE SAYS ERITREA HAS REJECTED PEACEFUL MEANS SO THE ONLY ALTERNATIVE NOW TO DEFEND OUR COUNTRY IS TO FIGHT THEM. // END OPT // YOUNG MEN ON BOTH SIDES OF THE FRONT ARE DYING OVER A FEW KILOMETERS OF DRY ROCK THAT THEIR GOVERNMENTS BELIEVE ARE CENTRAL TO NATIONAL SECURITY. (SIGNED) NEB/SKS/JWH/JO 17-Feb-99 10:41 AM EST (1541 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .





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