In a statement released late on Tuesday, Eritrea's Foreign Ministry said it disagreed with, but would honour, a December finding from a commission assessing damage claims from the 1998-2000 conflict that it had violated international law in launching attacks that sparked the war.

At the same time, it renewed accusations that Ethiopia was in breach of a 2000 peace deal and stepped up criticism of the UN for not forcing Addis Ababa to accept the new border, which was drawn up in 2002 and awarded the flashpoint town of Badme to Eritrea.

The statement was Asmara's first official acknowledgement that The Hague-based Ethiopia-Eritrea Claims Commission (EECC) had on 19 December found Eritrea responsible for the clashes that started the war and liable for damages.

Previously, it had only addressed rulings in its favour.

Case not proven

The ministry said that while Eritrea believed the case against it had not been proven, it would accept the commission's decision.

"Eritrea presented substantial evidence to the contrary, arguing in its written and oral pleadings that Ethiopia's aggression (was) the proximate cause of the war's beginning," it said.

Tensions on the Eritrea-Ethiopia
border are on the increase again

"Despite its strong disagreement with the commission's conclusion, Eritrea remains committed to honouring the award, on the grounds of respect for international rule of law," the ministry said.

It stressed that Ethiopia had not shown similar respect for the rule of law because it had refused to accept the border ruling giving Badme to Eritrea.

That decision was issued by a sister panel to the claims commission as part of the agreement signed in Algiers to end the war between the Horn of Africa states, which claimed some 80,000 lives.

The statement was released amid soaring tensions on the border and as the UN Security Council met in New York on Tuesday to consider the future of its peacekeeping mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea in light of restrictions imposed on the operation by Asmara.

Six options

Kofi Annan, the UN chief, indicating neither nation had yet complied with Security Council demands to ease tensions, presented six options ranging from maintaining the status quo to a full withdrawal for the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE).

He asked the council to decide on action by the end of the month.

In November, the council had threatened the countries with sanctions unless they reduced troop levels along the border by 23 December, warned Eritrea it would face punitive measures unless it lifted the restrictions on UNMEE, and urged Ethiopia to accept the border demarcation.

Although Ethiopia subsequently withdrew some soldiers from the border, none of the other demands has been met.