Soviets back Ethiopia in Ogaden

Amid fresh tension between Somalia and Ethiopia on the Horn of Africa, the Soviet Union reiterated political support for the ''sovereignty and territorial integrity'' of Ethiopia.

Still, the wording of the statement - which included no explicit Kremlin commitments and omitted mention of the friendship and cooperation pact binding the two countries - struck diplomats as in keeping with the generally restrained public approach by the Soviets to the latest trouble on the Horn.

The statement came in the Soviet leadership's traditional message of greetings on Ethiopia's national holiday - but it was the first time such a phrase had been included since 1978, the year that Ethiopian forces, aided by Soviet advisers and Cuban troops, defeated a bid by neighboring Somalia to press claims on the Ogaden border province.

The latest national day message said the ''Soviet people . . . wish the Ethiopian people . . . successes in efforts to guard the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country.''

This was seen as a reference both to Ethiopia's ongoing battle with separatist forces in northern Eritrea, and to the dispute with Somalia.

In July, the Somalis accused Ethiopia of launching a border offensive, something the Ethiopians and Soviets deny. The United States says it has independently confirmed Ethiopian military activity, and has airlifted military materiel to the Somalis. US officials add, however, that they have made it clear the supplies should not be used for any new Somali push into the Ogaden.

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