WASHINGTON, Nov 9 (Reuters) The United States today urged ''maximum restraint'' by Ethiopia and Eritrea amid concern over a new border war between the two east African foes.
''We are concerned about the military build-up and tension on the border between Eritrea and Ethiopia,'' State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.
''We call on the governments of Eritrea and Ethiopia to exercise maximum restraint and avoid any actions that might further heighten tension or reignite conflict,'' he said.
Ethiopia, which Washington sees as one of its closest allies in the region, said on Friday it had no plans to invade Eritrea, even as Asmara claimed for the fourth time in two weeks that Addis Ababa was preparing to launch an assault.
The United States has difficult relations with Eritrea, which it accuses of backing Somali Islamists. Eritrea, for its part, accuses the United States of fueling conflicts in the Horn of Africa region.
A 1998-2000 war on the border between the two neighbors killed 70,000 people and both sides accuse the other of preparing for a new war by moving troops closer to their disputed frontier area.
''We urge both governments to disengage militarily from the most critical locations along the border and to cooperate with the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea,'' said McCormack.
McCormack said both governments must respect commitments made in a 2000 cease-fire deal, adding that they must embrace efforts by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to resolve their boundary impasse and normalize relations.
The United Nations has a peacekeeping force of 1,700 people charged with monitoring a security buffer zone on Eritrea's side of the 1,000-km frontier. Under the terms of a June 2000 cease-fire, the zone is meant to be demilitarized.
Reuters SBA VP0302