Untouched by the fervent nationalism on both sides in Ethiopia and Eritrea's border conflict, the people of this border village have adopted a pragmatic attitude.

Most care more about the success of the next harvest than the final outcome of the 2-month-old dispute."We are here on our land, if this place is taken by Eritrea, then we are in Eritrea; if this land is taken by Ethiopia, we in are Ethiopia," reasoned one resident.

Until a few weeks ago, Mai-Cha'ha, nine miles south of the Eritrean town of Senafe, was undoubtedly under Ethiopian administration. Senafe is close to the Eritrea-Ethiopia border.

The oldest villager, born in 1935, said that except for the Italians, he had known no other authority in the area. "We do consider ourselves Ethiopian," he said. But when fighting erupted on this southern front in late May, Eritrean forces took control of the area.

"When the border is demarcated, then we will say our position," said the village priest. "We want peace, you want peace, we all want demarcation. This is just between the two governments."

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The men of the village furled their umbrellas and took shelter in a mud-walled church while the rain pelted off the iron roof. They were happy that the rains had come at last and hoped their meager crops of barley and maize would do well.

The village lies in a valley surrounded by rocky hills. Through the mist of the rain, everything had turned to lush green.

When Eritrean troops rolled into MaiCha'ha on the last day of May, the 400 villagers put up little defense. Three of the five militiamen gave up their guns to the invading forces, and the two others simply left the village, said the priest.

But the soldiers came up against stiffer opposition in the Ethiopian town of Alitena, three hours walk over a ridge, which was the scene of heavy fighting on May 31, a prelude to an even fiercer engagement at Zalambessa to the west on June 3.

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