With a border dispute escalating into bombing raids, hundreds of foreigners scrambled out of Eritrea on Saturday, fearing it will be engulfed in war with Ethiopia. One of their main escape routes came under attack for a second straight day.
Ethiopian jets again bombed a military-civilian airport not far from Asmara, forcing embassies to step up their exit plans.American, Italian, German and British planes ferried foreigners out of harm's way late Saturday after Ethiopia agreed to temporarily halt bombing.
Weary expatriates crowded the airport parking lot, waiting for evacution flights. Angered and confused by the sudden violence in this capital of broad boulevards and modern buildings, no one wanted to talk about his decision to go.
"In principle, this is the last of the evacuations, but in practice, if someone wants to leave we'll try to help," said French Ambassador Louis Le Vert.
Late Saturday, American and other foreign diplomats met with Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in Addis Ababa and received a pledge that Ethiopian warplanes would suspend their bombing of the airport from Saturday evening until Sunday morning so evacuations could take place, Italian Ambassador Marcello Ricoveri said.
Afterward, German military aircraft carrying 210 Europeans took off for Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, the German Defense Ministry said. And a British air force plane picked up the remaining 40 Britons and about 60 Australian, Canadian and South African nationals and took off for Jeddah, the British Defense Ministry said.
Le Vert said two U.S. and two Italian planes also carried foreigners from Asmara to neighboring Djibouti, but he didn't know how many people were aboard.
When the U.S. planes arrived, Marines jumped out and deployed into combat position, startling Eritreans working at the airport, which was under a cease-fire.
Earlier Saturday, a plane with 194 people aboard arrived in Frankfurt, Germany.
The number of foreigners still waiting to be evacuated from Eritrea, wedged between northern Ethiopia and the Red Sea, was not known.
With the attacks on Asmara's airport, a quick resolution to the crisis appeared unlikely.
"At the moment, I'm not seeing any light at the end of the tunnel," Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki told reporters.
There was no word on casualties from Saturday's bombing, but Eritrea claimed to have shot down one of the Ethiopian MiG 23 fighter-bombers and to have captured its pilot; Ethiopia confirmed the downing.
American government workers and Peace Corps volunteers were among the 194 people who arrived in Frankfurt early Saturday.