Border violence in South America kills eight

The Associated Press

MACAS, Ecuador A Peruvian helicopter was reportedly shot down Sunday, killing seven, and at least one Ecuadorean soldier died in what officials called a ''massive offensive'' by Peru in a disputed border area.

Peruvian officials did not comment on the new fighting or casualties. They have remained silent since clashes in the remote border area flared Thursday.

Gen. Jorge Ortega, Ecuador's army commander, headed Sunday from Quito toward the disputed area to inspect the troops. He described heavy fighting by air and land earlier in the day.

He gave no specifics on the fighting, but said Ecuadoreans held on to the attacked border posts, including the Teniente Hugo Ortiz post that the Ecuadoran military said had been attacked twice on Saturday.

The Ecuadorean military said in a statement that five Peruvian helicopters attacked border posts at Coangas and Cueva de los Tayos. It reported seven Peruvian dead and one Ecuadorean injured at Teniente Hugo Ortiz, where anti-aircraft fire shot down a Peruvian helicopter and the attack was repelled.

However, in Shell-Mera, an army supply area about 125 miles from the fighting, reporters saw a simple wood coffin draped with the Ecuador's yellow, blue and red flag.

Col. Pablo Viteri, commander at the Shell-Mera post, said the soldier had been killed Sunday, and that one Ecuadorean soldier had been wounded. Earlier, Gen. Jose Grijalba in Quito said there were unconfirmed reports of two Ecuadorean soldiers dead.

''I hope (Peruvian President Alberto) Fujimori believes there should be no more deaths,'' said air force sergeant Luis Sanchez, who watched the casket being loaded onto the plane. ''It's not worth it.''

In Peru, television was offering its standard Sunday fare of sports, music and cartoons, although the nationally broadcast Radioprogramas interspersed coverage of a minor league soccer match with reports of the conflict.

In Quito, the tone was of alarm. President Sixto Duran-Ballen said all sectors of the country, including the political opposition, were prepared to ''firmly maintain our position.''

Speaking to a crowd from the presidential palace balcony about midday, he said, ''We are not going to retreat,'' he said, adding that the border bases the border bases under attack ''are on Ecuadorean soil.''

Peruvian President Fujimori said Saturday that all the actions had ''have taken place in Peruvian territory with the presence of Ecuadorean patrols.''

Ecuadorean military kept reporters from the area of the clashes, saying they feared for the reporters' safety.

In Washington, Ecuador's Ambassador to the United States Edgar Teran said he had been in contact with Alexander Watson, U.S. Assistant Secretary for State for Inter-American Affairs, and had asked the United States and the international community to help end the fighting.

The State Department had no statement on the fighting Sunday.

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