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DATE=3/17/99 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT NUMBER=2-246743 TITLE=ETHIOPIA / ERITREA FIGHTING (L) BYLINE=SCOTT STEARNS DATELINE=NAIROBI CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: ERITREA SAYS IT HAS CRUSHED AN ETHIOPIAN OFFENSIVE ON THE CENTRAL FRONT OF THEIR BORDER WAR. AS VOA'S SCOTT STEARNS REPORTS FROM OUR EAST AFRICA BUREAU, ETHIOPIA SAYS THE BATTLE IS NOT OVER YET. TEXT: ERITREA SAYS ETHIOPIA HAS SUFFERED ITS HEAVIEST LOSSES OF THE WAR IN THREE DAYS OF FIGHTING ON THE TSORONA FRONT, 120 KILOMETERS SOUTH OF THE ERITREAN CAPITAL, ASMARA. ERITREA SAYS IT BEAT BACK REPEATED ATTACKS BY MORE THAN 40-THOUSAND ETHIOPIAN TROOPS WHO FELL LIKE LEAVES IN WHAT A FOREIGN MINISTRY STATEMENT CALLS A "SLAUGHTER." ERITREA SAYS ETHIOPIA FORCED CIVILIANS TO CARRY AMMUNITION TO THE FRONT, USING THEM, IN ITS WORDS, AS CANNON FODDER. THE FOREIGN MINISTRY SAYS ERITREA SHOT DOWN A MIG-23 FIGHTER JET AND DESTROYED 57 ETHIOPIAN TANKS, CAPTURING SIX OTHERS. IT SAYS DEFENSE FORCES COULD NOT PROVIDE AN ACCURATE ESTIMATE OF HUMAN CASUALTIES BECAUSE OF "THE SHEER SCOPE OF DAMAGE TO THE ETHIOPIAN GROUND FORCES." ACCOUNTS FROM THE ERITREAN SIDE OF THE TSORONA FRONT REPORT HUNDREDS OF CORPSES AND AT LEAST 20 DESTROYED TANKS. ETHIOPIA'S GOVERNMENT SPOKESWOMAN SAYS THOSE REPORTS ARE PART OF A STAGED DRAMA TO BOOST ERITREAN MORALE. ERITREA'S NEWS AGENCY SAYS THE CARNAGE IS VERY REAL AND ETHIOPIA SHOULD NOT TRY AND INSULT THE INTELLIGENCE OF THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY BY PRETENDING IT IS A RUSE. ETHIOPIA DENIES IT HAS LOST THE BATTLE ON THE TSORONA FRONT, SAYING FIGHTING IS CONTINUING WEDNESDAY WITH ETHIOPIAN TANKS AND HEAVY ARTILLERY IN ACTION AGAINST ERITREAN POSITIONS AROUND THE BORDER TOWN OF ZALAMBESA. ERITREA SAYS THERE HAS BEEN NO FIGHTING SINCE TUESDAY MORNING. BOTH SIDES HAVE ACCEPTED A REGIONAL PLAN TO ARBITRATE THE BORDER DISPUTE. ERITREA SAYS ETHIOPIA IS TRYING TO GO BACK ON THAT DEAL BY CONTINUING THE FIGHT AND INTRODUCING NEW PRECONDITIONS TO TORPEDO THE PEACE PROCESS. ERITREA SAYS IT IS READY TO PULL BACK ITS FORCES AT THE SAME TIME AS ETHIOPIA IN KEEPING WITH THE "ORGANIZATION OF AFRICAN UNITY" PLAN. THAT DEAL CALLS ON BOTH SIDES TO DEMILITARIZE THE BORDER AHEAD OF AN INTERNATIONAL MONITORING FORCE FOR DISPUTED AREAS AND A COMMISSION TO DECIDE THE EXACT LOCATION OF THE BORDER WITHIN SIX MONTHS. //REST OPT// ETHIOPIA SAYS IT IS ERITREA THAT IS BLOCKING O-A-U MEDIATION BY REFUSING TO WITHDRAW FROM TERRITORIES ADMINISTERED BY ETHIOPIA BEFORE FIGHTING BEGAN LAST MAY. BOTH SIDES ARE TRYING TO USE THEIR ACCEPTANCE OF THE PLAN TO SCORE DIPLOMATIC POINTS AGAINST THE OTHER. U-N SECRETARY GENERAL KOFI ANNAN IS ASKING THE O-A-U TO CLARIFY THE SPECIFICS OF THE DEAL TO ELIMINATE VARYING INTERPRETATIONS THAT BOTH ETHIOPIA AND ERITREA ARE USING TO STALL THE PEACE PROCESS. (SIGNED) NEB/SKS/PCF 17-Mar-99 5:48 AM EST (1048 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .





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