After the latest conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea subsided, the current situation in border towns including Tsorona, Zalambessa and Bure remain tense with heavy military presence from both sides, sources confirmed to The Reporter.
According to eyewitnesses, heavy artillery including tanks and armored vehicles were spotted. There was also massive troop movement.
It was on Sunday that reports hit social media of fighting between Ethiopian and Eritrean troops on the heavily-militarized border area. It was reported that the forces exchanged heavy artillery fire.
According residents of the border towns, the latest battle was one of the “worst clashes since the end of the 1998–2000 border war.”
Both Addis Ababa and Asmara blamed one other for initiating the latest clash.
Eventually, following reports from residents living on the Ethiopian side of the border of hearing heavy gunfire, Eritrea accused Ethiopia of infringing its territory over the weekend. “The TPLF regime has… unleashed an attack against Eritrea on the Tsorona Central Front,” Eritrea’s Information Ministry said in a statement released overnight Sunday. Besides the claim from the Eritrean government in the capital Asmara, however, there is very little confirmed detail of what happened.
Speaking to reporters in Addis Ababa on Tuesday, Getachew Reda, Head of Government Communications Affairs Office with a ministerial portfolio, said fighting stopped Monday around noon and that Ethiopian forces withdrew from the site of the clash “once our objective was achieved.”
Getachew said Ethiopia “chose to avoid a full-scale war” with Eritrea, but the Ethiopian government warned it would respond if Eritrea attacked again.
On Thursday Asmara said, “More than 200 TPLF (Ethiopian) troops have been killed and more than 300 wounded.” The Ministry of Information said that it is a “conservative estimate”.
However, Ethiopia immediately downplayed Asmara’s claim saying the number of causalities Eritrea alleged to have entailed were only a desperate and cooked-up figures aimed to cover the very heavy loss the Eritrean Army suffered.
“This is nothing but a belated effort by a shell-shocked regime to boost the flailing morale of its few remaining supporters,” Getachew said.
“We are not going to be sucked in to a game of numbers because we have achieved our objectives” Getachew said adding, “We have no time or interest for morbid excitement.”
Yet, sources told The Reporter that a high-ranking Eritrean military officer has been taken captive.
Analysts contacted by The Reporter said that that there will not be an all-out war but added that it is never completely off the table. Skirmishes between the two forces on the border are not infrequent, although analysts suggest that the latest incident is more serious than usual.
The latest skirmish was condemned by the international community including the United Nations, the African Union and the United States.
The US 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,” US Department of State spokesman John Kirby said in a statement Tuesday.
Similarly, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for maximum restraint.
The Secretary-General discussed the issue in a meeting in Brussels with the Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn, while the Deputy Secretary-General called the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Eritrea.
“They urged both Governments to exercise maximum restraint and refrain from any act or statement that could exacerbate the situation,” said the statement released by the spokesperson, which added that they also called on both Governments to resolve their differences through peaceful means, including by ensuring the full implementation of the peace agreement they signed in 2000.
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.