December 27, 2007

Eritrea accuses Ethiopia of border attack

NAIROBI, Dec 27 (Reuters) - Eritrea has accused Ethiopia of attacking its security forces this week, describing it as part of ongoing provocation along their disputed border.

In a statement posted on its Web site late on Wednesday, Asmara said the relatively small-scale raid on Tuesday targeted its troops and allied militias in the South Tsorona region, inside a former buffer zone, but failed.

"(The) attack comes in continuation to (Ethiopia's) ongoing provocation and aggression in the Gash-Barka and Southern regions, whereby it planted mines, carried out incursions, abducted nationals and burned crop fields to the ground," the Eritrean statement said.

An Ethiopian official rejected the report and said Addis Ababa had no reason to provoke a new conflict with Asmara.

"If any country is war-mongering, it is Eritrea," Bereket Simon, special adviser to Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, told Reuters. "Ethiopia, at present, is focusing on its economic development, ensuring democracy and good governance internally."

Ethiopian officials routinely reject Eritrea's version of border incidents. Bereket said there was a clash in Gash-Barka this week, but it was "purely an Eritrean internal affair".

"It is well known there are a number of opposition groups waging war internally against the (Eritrean) regime," he said.

Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged Ethiopia to avoid raising tensions with Eritrea.

About 70,000 people were killed in a 1998-2000 border war between the two neighbours. In November, an international commission charged with setting the 1,000-km (620-mile) frontier dissolved itself, leaving the two states to work it out alone. (Additional reporting by Tsegaye Tadesse in Addis Ababa; Writing by Daniel Wallis, editing by Mary Gabriel)

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