Reuters International

By Aaron Maasho

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Ethiopia and Eritrea both suffered casualties during weekend skirmishes along their border but Addis Ababa will not escalate the dispute on its own, an Ethiopian official said on Tuesday.

The Horn of Africa rivals accused each other of triggering clashes that took place along the central stretch of their disputed frontier on Sunday, highlighting persisting tension over an unresolved boundary dispute that sparked war in 1998-2000.

The Red Sea state seceded from Ethiopia in 1991 after a three-decade liberation war. About 70,000 people were killed in the border war that flared up just seven years later.

In a statement, Asmara's information ministry said on Tuesday that Ethiopian troops had "sustained heavy casualties" after launching the attack on the Tsorona Central Front along its share of the border.

Ethiopian government spokesman Getachew Reda said both sides had suffered casualties but that Eritrean soldiers had "fired the first salvo" that led to the incident.

"Eritrea fired first, but they did not expect the kind of response that we were able to mount. The extent of the damage they have suffered will hopefully make them think twice," he told a news conference.

"We are capable of waging a full-scale war against Eritrea, but simply we don't choose to. That is why we have withdrawn our forces once our objectives were achieved," Getachew said.

Tsorona is a town south of the Eritrean capital Asmara and close to the frontier. The area saw intense fighting during the 1998-2000 conflict.

Soon after the end of full-scale war, the United Nations deployed a ceasefire monitoring force on the border but withdrew it in 2008 in response to restrictions imposed on it by Eritrea that the U.N. said at the time made it impossible for the mission to function.

In addition to sporadic clashes, Eritrea and Ethiopia also routinely accuse the other of backing rebels trying to destabilise and topple the other's government.

Eritrea, which is under U.N. sanctions, says world powers have failed to push Ethiopia to accept an international arbitration ruling that handed a flashpoint town to Asmara. Ethiopia says it wants talks on implementation.

(Reporting by Aaron Maasho; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

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