A candlelight ceremony honored Eritrean soldiers who died in a 30-year battle for independence from Ethiopia Friday, even as mediators failed to resolve renewed fighting between the two nations.
The mood at the Martyr's Day ceremony in a square in the Eritrean capital was reverent but shot through with defiance over the conflict that broke out in early May."We are all grateful for what they did to give our nation independence," said Kibra Tekie, one of thousands who sat in the bleachers. "After our long struggle, we are ready to defend ourselves against Ethiopia again, if we must."
About 65,000 Eritreans died in the fight for independence, which ended in 1991 after the Eritreans helped Ethiopian rebels oust a Marxist dictatorship. Eritrea became independent in 1993 with the approval of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.
Earlier Friday, Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki, a comrade-in-arms of Meles in the struggle, urged the two nations to "put our alliance back in place so that we contribute to each other's stability and to the stability of the region."
But Eritrea continued to refuse to unilaterally withdraw from disputed territory as required by a U.S.-Rwandan proposal that the Organization of African Unity has adopted as the basis for peace talks, said OAU secretary-general Salim Ahmed Salim.
Eritrea insists it is rightfully on land defined by boundaries drawn by Italy when it occupied Eritrea in 1885. Ethiopia, which has accepted the U.S.-Rwanda proposal, refuses to engage in peace talks until Eritrea withdraws.
The mediation team met both Meles and Isaias Thursday, then returned to Addis Ababa.
Sudan, meanwhile, accused Eritrea of attacking seven border posts with artillery and tanks on Thursday, the latest skirmish between two neighbors with increasingly uneasy relations.
Both Eritrea and Ethiopia have severed ties with Sudan, and each has accused the other of harboring rebels. Sudan has accused Eritrea in the past of taking part in rebel attacks.