JULY 1 2007 11:52h
Eritrea scoffed at comments by Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi that his neighbour and arch-foe might be considering an invasion.
A short but withering editorial from Asmara also criticised Meles' "boot-licking" foreign policy in Somalia where he has sent troops to back the government against Islamists.
At odds since a devastating 1998-2000 border war, Ethiopia and Eritrea's unremitting enmity is seen as a major destabilising factor across the Horn of Africa, one of the world's poorest and most conflict-ridden zones.
Meles ratcheted up tensions earlier this week by saying Ethiopia was making the necessary military preparations to deter "a possible Eritrean invasion".
While he gave no specific new information, the United Nations has chided both sides this year for moving several thousand troops towards the disputed border area.
Their unresolved territorial dispute has been exacerbated by the Somalia conflict, where Ethiopia openly backs the government and Eritrea is perceived by many to support the Islamists.
Addis Ababa also accuses Asmara of increasing support to anti-Meles rebel groups within Ethiopia.
"As to what he is referring to as 'tension' from the Eritrean side and the so-called military preparations, it is but meant to set terror and use the occasion as an excuse to raise a smokescreen so as to hide from the present domestic chaos," Eritrea said in an editorial on its shabait.com Web site.
"It is nothing but a lament born out of disturbance."
Ethiopia is engaged in a bloody offensive against Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) rebels in its remote east, and also faces threats from insurgents in other corners. Futhermore, it is under intense pressure from the West over the detention and trial of scores of opposition activists.
"As to what he has said about Somalia, it is totally a meaningless meandering," the Eritrean editorial added of Meles' references in the same speech to his Somalia policy.
The Ethiopian leader said he was slowing down the planned exit of his troops from Somalia until a national reconciliation conference had proven successful, the government was stabilised, and an Africa peacekeeping mission was up to strength.
"The clique doesn't surely know yet what kind of order it will need to perform tomorrow, after it has wilfully carried out the invasion licking the boots of foreign forces," the editorial said, implying Ethiopia was under U.S. instructions when it entered Somalia last year.
Asmara routinely refers to Meles' government as a "clique" in reference to the former guerrilla leader's ethnic background from the northern Tigray region of Ethiopia.
Some 70,000 people died in the 1998-2000 war over a border of barren plains and dusty villages.