It was the first attack by Ethiopian troops inside Eritrea since the end of a 1998-2000 war that killed 70,000 people and still festers, because the frontier dispute that ignited the conflict remains unresolved.
Ethiopia routinely accuses Asmara of supporting Ethiopian separatist groups. It blamed an Afar rebel movement for the kidnapping of Westerners in its northern Afar region in 2007, and again for the attack in the same area in January.
“Our national defence force has today taken measures against military posts inside Eritrea in which subversive and anti-peace elements were trained,” government spokesman Shimeles Kemal told reporters.
Gunmen killed two Germans, two Hungarians and an Austrian in a dawn attack on a group of tourists in the remote Afar region on January 17, and seized two Germans and two Ethiopians.
A rebel group in the Afar region said last week it had freed the two Germans, although there has been no official confirmation of the release.
“These groups are operating in the Afar area. We know for certain that the Eritrean government harbours, supports, trains and deploys subversive groups that occasionally launch attacks on civilian and infrastructure targets inside Ethiopia,” he said.
Shimeles said Ethiopian soldiers attacked three places – Ramid, Gelahbe and Gimbi – 16 km (10 miles) inside southeastern Eritrea. “We will continue our measures as long as they remain a launching pad for similar attacks,” he said.
After the border war, The Hague-based Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission ruled in 2002 that the border village of Badme belonged to Eritrea.
However, the village remains in Ethiopia and Eritrea blames the international community, and the United Nations in particular, for not forcing Ethiopia to accept the border.
Tensions along the frontier rose sharply in November 2005 as both countries moved up troops. By January 2006, Ethiopia had complied with a U.N. demand to withdraw its soldiers.
The United Nations has also slapped sanctions on Eritrea, accusing it of supporting Islamist rebels in Somalia, a charge the Red Sea state strongly denies.
Despite the repeated denials that it is not a destabilising force in the volatile Horn of Africa region, Eritrea is widely regarded in the international community as a pariah state and is deeply mistrusted by its neighbours.
Eritrea accuses Ethiopia – Washington’s main ally in the Horn of Africa – and the United States of influencing a U.N. monitoring group with fabricated evidence about the reclusive Red Sea state’s links to militants in Somalia. Reuters