Eritreans braced for more bombing Sunday by Ethiopian warplanes after a deadline passed for hundreds of foreigners to flee to safety.
Hectic diplomatic efforts were under way to prevent the border conflict from exploding into a full-scale war between the two East African nations.Eritreans scanned cloudless blue skies Sunday and listened for the high-pitched whoosh of the Ethiopian MiG-23 fighters that had bombed their capital's airport Friday and Saturday. But none came.
Skirmishes were reported, however, along the two countries' disputed border. Ethiopia said Sunday it had reoccupied its border town of Zala Anbessa, 65 miles southwest of Asmara, after a daylong battle with Eritrean forces who captured the town last week.
Eritrean government spokesman Isaac Yared said Eritrean troops had retreated to their side of the border. "They decided it was time to go," he said.
Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki was hopeful that a summit of heads of state of the Organization of African Unity on Monday will produce new ideas for a negotiated settlement, his spokesman Yemane Gebremeskel said.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Susan Rice left a meeting of OAU foreign ministers Saturday in Ouagadougu, Burkina Faso, to return to the United States.
Rice is promoting a U.S.-Rwandan peace plan for the two feuding Horn of Africa countries.
The plan includes a call for Eritrea to return to positions held before May 6, when current hostilities reportedly broke out - in other words, to withdraw from what Ethiopia considers its territory.
But Eritrea, wedged between northern Ethiopia and the Red Sea, claims it is rightfully occupying territory defined by boundaries drawn by Italy when it occupied Eritrea in 1885.
African leaders, including the presidents of South Africa, Djibouti, Uganda and Kenya, called President Isaias over the weekend to encourage a negotiated settlement.
Eritrean civilians were hoping to avoid war. Ethiopia's army outnumbers Eritrea's 40,000-strong force by about three to one. Eritrea's tiny air force is no match for Ethiopia's.
Mokonnen, who uses just one name, said he was optimistic that a peace pact would be forged between the one-time allies.