Eritrea claims advantage in border war with Ethiopia
Web posted at: 2:55 p.m. EST (1955 GMT)
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (CNN) -- Eritrea claimed new battlefield success Tuesday in its border war with Ethiopia, reporting that its troops turned back a major offensive and killed at least 1,500 Ethiopian troops.
But Ethiopian units continued to pound enemy positions on two fronts, and its government claimed it captured two Eritrean strongholds in the south. Neither claim could be independently confirmed. Ethiopia reportedly killed five civilians Tuesday in a predawn raid on a small village.
The long-standing border dispute turned into open warfare on Saturday after a seven-month moratorium on air attacks. Each side accuses the other of causing the new fighting.
Eritrean government officials say their troops beat back Monday's Ethiopian offensive, killing the 1,500 soldiers and wounding about 3,000 near the southern town of Tsorona.
"They are sustaining heavy damage and they are not gaining any ground," a senior government official said.
Both sides traded artillery fire Tuesday, and Ethiopia sent fighter planes and helicopters to back up its ground forces. Its attacks also killed civilians: At least five were killed in an air raid near the front, observers reported.
The victims were from Laili Deda, a tent village housing about 500 Eritreans deported from Ethiopia last year. The victims were all members of the same family.
At the heart of the conflict is a 400-square kilometer (150- square mile) triangle of scrub land along Ethiopia's northern border region of Badme. Though the land has little apparent value, many Ethiopians -- who follow the battles through state-run news outlets -- said Tuesday they support the war.
"I am very happy the war has started because the Ethiopian army is very strong," said Shewaneh Tessema, a 25-year-old tailor interviewed in an Addis Ababa market. "Our government waited too long ... it is not in our history to accept an invasion."
Solomon, a 27-year-old economics student, added: "The land itself might be worthless but that is not the point. Its value is about something else, it is a matter of sovereignty."
Algeria, which will host an African summit this summer, urged a quick end to the war on Monday.
The nation called on both sides "to show restraint in order to give a chance for a peaceful solution to this fratricidal conflict," according to the Algerian Foreign Ministry.
The Eritrean-Ethiopian dispute is among regional conflicts expected to be discussed by African heads of state at their July summit in Algiers.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon said two U.S. warships with about 1,500 Marines on board are waiting off the Horn of Africa in case they need to evacuate American and other civilians.
The amphibious assault ships USS Boxer and USS Cleveland standing by in case the State Department orders an evacuation of embassies in either country. The ships carry a range of transport and attack helicopters and AV-8 Harrier jets.
The Marines on board would also be in position to evacuate "other third country nationals" if the need arises, according to military sources. But "the situation doesn't warrant it at this time," said one Pentagon source.
CNN's Chris Plante andReuters contributed to this report.
Ethiopia, Eritrea open new border war front
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