By Barry Malone

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters)

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said he is willing to meet Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki despite more than 10 years of bitter words and a bloody border war.

Eritrea last month accused Ethiopia of blocking its participation in African Union (AU) summits in Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa — seat of the 53-nation body.

Responding to questions, Meles denied the claims and said Isaias was welcome in Ethiopia.

“If the Eritrean government is eager to send any person, whether the president himself or any person, and participate in meetings they will be treated exactly like any other delegation,” Meles told reporters late on Thursday.

Meles said it was Addis Ababa’s obligation as AU headquarters.

The 1998-2000 war between two of the world’s poorest countries killed at least 70,000 people. An independent border commission in 2002 awarded the flashpoint town of Badme to Eritrea but Ethiopia still occupies the territory.

“I am prepared to talk to anybody on matters that help peace in the neighbourhood,” Meles said. “So as I have made it very clear on many occasions we are ready to talk to them at any level, at any time, any place.”

Meles did not say whether he was willing to discuss the border issue.

“I have no obligation to meet him at the airport,” Meles added.

In December, the U.N. Security Council imposed sanctions on Eritrea, accusing it of backing rebel groups in Somalia, where at least 21,000 people have been killed in violence since the beginning of 2007.

The sanctions, adopted in December and backed by 13 of the 15 members of the U.N. Security Council, include an arms embargo, travel restrictions and asset freezes for some of the country’s top officials.

Asmara says the Security Council is a proxy for the United States and says the multi-state body continues to ignore the fact that their territory is being occupied by Ethiopia, Washington’s strongest ally in the Horn of Africa.