By Aaron Maasho
ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Eritrea urged the United Nations to take action against Ethiopia on Friday for an attack inside its territory which the government in Asmara branded provocative.
The Red Sea state said it would not be "entrapped" by the military incursion, signaling its reluctance to be sucked back into armed conflict with its bitter foe.
Ethiopia announced on Thursday its troops raided three military bases in Eritrea which it said were used by Ethiopian rebels.
The assaults were the first on Eritrean soil that Addis Ababa has admitted to since the end of a 1998-2000 war that killed 70,000 people. Eritrea claims there have been others.
"The objective of the attack ... is to divert attention from the central issue of the regime's flagrant violation of international law and illegal occupation of sovereign Eritrean territories," Eritrea's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
"Eritrea ... will not be entrapped by such deceitful ploys that are aimed at derailing and eclipsing the underlying fundamental issues."
A vicious row over the position of Eritrea and Ethiopia's shared border was not resolved at the end of the war.
The Hague-based Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission ruled in 2002 that the border village of Badme belonged to Eritrea.
However, the village remains in Ethiopia, Washington's main ally in the volatile Horn of Africa.
"It is patently clear that the Ethiopian regime could not have unleashed such a flagrant act of aggression with such audacity without the protection and succor of the United States in the Security Council," Eritrean Foreign Minister Osman Saleh said in a letter to the U.N. Security Council seen by Reuters.
"Eritrea urges, for the umpteenth time, the U.N. Security Council to shoulder its legal and moral responsibilities and to take appropriate measures to rectify acts of aggression against Eritrea's sovereign territories."
Eritrea gave no further details on what action it hoped for.
Unable to match Ethiopia militarily, Asmara has launched a proxy war in lawless Somalia to weaken its neighbor, some analysts say. President Isaias Afewerki's government has been hit with sanctions for links with Somalia's al Shabaab rebels.
"I suspect there is little fallout to expect from the raid - unless Eritrea chooses to unleash one of its proxies, perhaps in Somalia," said J. Peter Pham at the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank.
"Of course, if that happens, it would give the lie to Asmara's hitherto denials of linkages with groups like al-Shabaab."
Shimeles Kemal, Ethiopia's government spokesman, said Eritrea has used the bases to train an Ethiopian rebel group that Addis Ababa says killed five foreign tourists and kidnapped two others in Ethiopia's remote Afar region in January.
"The Eritrean defense force is not in a position to launch an attack against Ethiopia and were they try to do so, the results would be disastrous," he told journalists on Thursday.
Eritrea denies any involvement.
"As we underlined at the time, the recent deplorable killing and abduction of tourists has also been misconstrued by the ... (Ethiopian) regime and its backers as a 'blessing in disguise' to rationalize its unlawful acts," its foreign ministry said.
A Western diplomat in Addis Ababa told Reuters the neighbors -- two of the poorest countries in the world -- are unlikely to harbor intentions for an all-out war, but both would be happy to see the other's government unfold.
"Ethiopia will take whatever means necessary to topple the regime in Asmara, but a full-scale war is unthinkable. I believe these type of incidents will happen again," he said.
(Editing by Richard Lough and Richard Meares)