The leaders of Eritrea and Ethiopia have agreed to immediately halt the use of airstrikes in their border war, according to a U.S. presidential spokesman.

President Clinton talked personally by telephone with the leaders of the two countries Sunday during an Air Force One flight from Los Angeles to Washington, deputy press secretary Joe Lockhart said.While the agreement does not end the border dispute between the Horn of Africa countries, the White House said it "can help restore the mutual confidence necessary to achieve a peaceful resol-u-tion of the conflict as quickly as possible."

Eritrea welcomed the airstrike ban as a first step toward meeting its call for a total halt to hostilities.

"I think the Ethiopian government is beginning to realize that force is not going to solve this problem," said government spokesman Yemane Gebreab. "We do hope they will not want to fight on the ground anymore either."

Ethiopia and Eritrea, one-time allies who less than a decade ago were part of the same country, have battled since early May over several stretches of their common border with the loss of hundreds of lives. No skirmishes have been reported since Thursday.