Rebels kill 23 Eritrean troops - Ethiopian media

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ADDIS ABABA, Nov 1 (Reuters) Eritrean rebels say they have killed 23 Eritrean soldiers and freed prisoners jailed in the Red Sea State's remote Afar region, Ethiopia's pro-government Walta Information Service reported today.

Eritrea and Ethiopia fought a 1998-2000 war that killed 70,000 people, and tensions are rising again ahead of a deadline this month for them to demarcate their disputed frontier.

Both sides routinely trade accusations of encouraging instability in the region by supporting each other's rebels.

The Walta news agency said fighters from a little-known group calling itself the Red Sea Afar Democratic Organisation (RSADO) had killed 23 Eritrean troops and wounded 15 more in a raid on Monday at Asbolo in Eritrea's Bada region.

''The RSADO ... returned to their liberated area inside Eritrea after freeing clan chiefs, young men and women who were jailed by the Eritrean government,'' the report said.

It quoted the rebels calling on other Eritrean opposition groups to unite against ''the dictatorial regime in Asmara'', but gave no other details about the reported attack.

Asmara mocked the statement, saying Eritrea has no internal opposition.

''This is an illusion created in the minds of the Ethiopians,'' Information Minister Ali Abdu Ahmed told Reuters by telephone.

''If the Ethiopians want to dream, let them enjoy their dream for the whole night,'' he added.

Afar is a hot, barren region straddling Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti.

Reuters PJ GC2003

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