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Eritrea, Ethiopia Trade Blame After Border Clash


FILE - From left, Ethiopia's Government Communications Affairs Office Minister Getachew Reda in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, Feb. 25, 2016; Eritrean Ambassador to the African Union Girma Asmerom, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, June 13, 2011.

Ethiopia and Eritrea are blaming each other for a border clash that inflamed long-running tensions between the East African neighbors and caused an unknown number of casualties.

Both sides claimed the upper hand in the fighting, which took place Sunday and Monday in the area of Tsorona, an Eritrean town that was a flashpoint during the border war the countries fought between 1998 and 2000.

Eritrea said an Ethiopian attack was “repulsed” with the Ethiopians taking heavy casualties, while Ethiopia said its forces seriously weakened the ability of Eritrea’s army to launch further attacks.

Neither side specified the number of those killed or wounded.

Speaking to reporters in Addis Ababa on Tuesday, Ethiopian Communications Minister Getachew Reda said fighting stopped Monday around noon and that Ethiopian forces withdrew from the site of the clash “once our objective was achieved.”

Reda said Ethiopia "chose to avoid a full-scale war" with Eritrea, but the Ethiopian government warned it would respond if Eritrea attacked again.

The U.S. Department of State expressed concern over the military action, calling on both sides to exercise restraint.

"We also urge both Ethiopia and Eritrea to cooperate in promoting stability and sustainable peace in the region," U.S. Department of State spokesman John Kirby said in a statement Tuesday.

Eritrea is appealing to the United Nations Security Council to condemn what it called a military offensive by Ethiopia.

“We have already complained to the Security Council to have an emergency meeting on the issue,” Eritrea’s U.N. ambassador, Girma Asmerom, told VOA’s Horn of Africa service Tuesday.

“No country in this world, whether it is big or small, has the right to aggress or cross over another sovereign territory. They (Ethiopians) have done this and they have to stop this,” Asmerom said.

The border war between Eritrea and Ethiopia killed an estimated 70,000 people. Since then, the two countries have fought periodic battles on their boundary, the most recent before this week coming in 2012.

Both governments accused the other of starting the latest battle to distract attention from political problems and internal opposition.

VOA Horn of Africa staffers Tizita Belachew and Henok Fente contributed to this report.