ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Ethiopia warned on Saturday it would take “all measures necessary” against Eritrea, in a rare threat of direct action against a neighbour it routinely accuses of supporting rebel groups.
Ethiopia and Eritrea have often traded tough rhetoric since a 1998-2000 border war killed some 80,000 people, but Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has up to now ruled out confrontation.
“What we are saying is that we will not sit idle and watch Eritrea challenge our sovereignty and our development efforts,” foreign ministry spokesman Dina Mufti told Reuters.
Ethiopia claims Eritrea is trying to destabilise the Horn of African nation by backing rebels, while also supporting Islamist militants in Somalia. The Ethiopian government usually says it is content to keep security tight at home to deter attacks.
Eritrea fiercely denies the charges and accuses Western nations of siding with Ethiopia over the unresolved border row.
Dina accused Eritrea of attempting to carry out attacks inside Ethiopia during an African Union summit in February and said Addis Ababa was asking the international community to pressure Asmara into “refraining” from such moves.
“If they (international community) don’t heed, then we will take all measures necessary to defend ourselves,” he said.
Prime Minister Meles told local media earlier this week that his administration should “either work towards changing Eritrea’s policies or its government”.
“This could be done diplomatically, politically or through other means,” he said.
Eritrean authorities were not immediately available for comment on the apparent hardening of Ethiopia’s stance.
The Red Sea state was part of Ethiopia until 1991 when rebel forces led by President Isaias Afewerki fought their way to secession following a 30-year liberation war.
Meles and Isaias were allies when they led separate rebel groups fighting former Ethiopian dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam, but they have been foes ever since the border war.
Eritrea is one of the world’s most secretive nations. Analysts and rights groups accuse Isaias of subjecting his opponents to arbitrary detentions and torture.
Eritrea was also hit with U.N. sanctions in 2009 over charges it provided funds and weapons to Islamist insurgents in Somalia — an accusation it denies.