February 14, 1999 :
Ethiopian Mi-24 shot down
Ethiopian Helicopter Downed By Eritreans
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (Reuters) -
Ethiopia said it inflicted heavy casualties on Eritrea today in fighting on a new front
southwest of Eritrea's strategic Red Sea port of Assab.
Eritrea said it shot down an Ethiopian Mi-24 helicopter gunship over the front line at 9 am (1 am EST), killing the crew of 6. Ethiopia later confirmed the loss.
An Eritrean government spokesman said artillery exchanges died down about 6 1/2 hours later and were followed by sporadic shelling.
"The intensity and duration of the shelling suggested to us that, as before, the Ethiopians would follow it up with infantry, but this was not forthcoming," said spokesman Yermane Gebremeskel.
Each side blamed the other for starting today's fighting.
Hostilities between Ethiopia and Eritrea resumed Feb. 6 on the Badme and Zalambessa fronts in central and western Eritrea. Assab, at the southern end of the Red Sea, is 43 miles northeast of the border and is Eritrea's second-largest port.
The town was a vital conduit for landlocked Ethiopia until the conflict began last May, when the government of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi diverted trade mainly to Djibouti.
Both sides have since massively reinforced the 620-mile border, digging large and well-equipped armies into front-line trenches.
Ethiopia says it wants only to win back territory occupied by Eritrea last year and has no interest in gaining land, but fighting around Assab last June raised the specter of an Ethiopian push for the strategic port.
The UN Security Council and President Clinton urged an immediate cease-fire last week, but the call went unheeded. Efforts by the Organization of African Unity and others to resolve the conflict have yet to bear fruit.
Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in May 1993 with Ethiopia's blessing. Until last May, Meles and Eritrean President Issaias Afwerki were seen as allies.
Eritrea Downs Ethiopian Aircraft
ASMARA, Eritrea ( AP ) -
Shattering a three-day lull in the Horn of Africa war, Eritrea shot down an Ethiopian helicopter
Reports of the shooting brought joyful residents into the streets of Eritrea's capital to celebrate.
Eritrean authorities said its antiaircraft batteries brought down the Ethiopian Mi-24 helicopter at Bure, 45 miles south of the Eritrean port of Assab. All of the helicopter's crew were killed, the Eritrean Foreign Ministry said.
Just 21/2 hours earlier, an Ethiopian Antonov-12 bombed a sparsely populated civilian area on the outskirts of Assab. Casualty reports were not immediately available.
Assab was a key trade outlet for Ethiopian goods until May, when war between Ethiopia and Eritrea forced Ethiopian companies to reroute their trade to nearby Djibouti.
The two Horn of Africa neighbors are fighting over disputed areas along their 620-mile border.
More than 1,000 people were killed in May's fighting, which subsided in June with a US-brokered moratorium on airstrikes.
Full-scale war again flared Feb. 6, with Ethiopia using planes and at least one helicopter at several fronts.
News of the downed helicopter was reported on Eritrean radio Sunday, triggering street celebrations in Asmara.
``We are a small people but we are very strong,'' said Medhane Zerabruk, 39, a reveler at Asmara airport singing war songs.
The cheering residents were quickly dispersed by police, apparently nervous that large crowds in the capital could draw air attacks.
Ethiopia confirmed the shootdown, saying it took place during heavy artillery exchanges that continued until late afternoon. It had no comment on casualties.
Ethiopian government spokeswoman Selome Tadesse said two Eritrean tanks and a large water reservoir were destroyed in the attack.
``Since the area is without any water supply, the destruction of the water reservoir is quite significant,'' Selome said.
An Eritrean government statement on Sunday said 16 civilians have been killed and 20 wounded by Ethiopian aircraft since Feb. 6.
``Ethiopia is resorting to air bombardment in violation of the U.S.-brokered moratorium because it has received heavy pounding in ground fighting,'' the statement said.
The Eritrean government also ordered the evacuation of the front-line border town of Zalambessa, 60 miles south of the capital.
Zalambessa has been tense since June, with periodic shelling by Ethiopian forces. Residents said Saturday that the shelling had escalated in the past week, forcing them underground into bunkers.
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