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What is behind tension between Eritrea and Djibouti? – BBC

The African Union is sending a fact-finding mission to Eritrea and Djibouti as tension mounts over their disputed border at one of the world’s busiest shipping routes.

The AU’s move has been backed by the UN Security Council, which on 19 June urged the two countries to resolve their differences peacefully.

The tension has been driven by Qatar’s move to withdraw its peacekeeping forces from the border.

Image copyright GETTY IMAGES
Image caption Djibouti is friendly with Ethiopia, a fierce rival of Eritrea

The peacekeepers had been in place since 2010 as part of efforts to resolve a dispute over the status of Dumeira Mountain and Dumeira Island, claimed by both Djibouti and Eritrea.

The tiny Dumeira Island lies just off the coast of the two countries, at the southern end of the Red Sea. It is close to the Bab-el-Mandeb strait, an important shipping lane for global commerce.

The two countries’ armed forces clashed on the border in 2008. Both states later accepted Qatar’s offer of mediation and the deployment of peacekeepers, though bilateral relations have remained strained.

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The withdrawal of the Qatari peacekeepers appears to be related to the country’s current diplomatic dispute with some of its Gulf neighbours, which over recent weeks have imposed a blockade.

What happened and why?

On 16 June, Djibouti accused Eritrea of sending its troops into the disputed territory, following the withdrawal of the Qatari peacekeepers, a move that Doha had confirmed two days earlier, though without giving any reason.

Djibouti Foreign Minister Mahamoud Ali Youssouf accused Eritrea of occupying disputed territory on the border, and said his country wanted a peaceful solution but was ready for conflict if necessary.

Both Djibouti and Eritrea have sided with Saudi Arabia in its dispute with Qatar.

What has been the reaction?

A statement issued by the Eritrean Information Ministry on 17 June made no direct mention of Djibouti’s accusations of military activity.

“The government of Eritrea has so far refrained from issuing any statement, primarily because it is not privy to and has not, to date, obtained any information on the withdrawal from the party concerned: that is the State of Qatar,” it said.

Ethiopia – by far the Horn of Africa’s largest and most powerful country, which shares borders with both Eritrea and Djibouti – says it backs the African Union move to send a fact-finding mission, and has urged the UN to support the initiative.

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The Ethiopian Foreign Ministry on 18 June called on its two neighbours to refrain from “escalating tensions” and instead “resolve differences through peaceful means”.

What are the implications for regional security?

Aside from the adverse security and humanitarian effects on the two states themselves, any military conflict between Eritrea and Djibouti has the risk of inflaming the much serious and longer running border row between Eritrea and Ethiopia.

Ethiopia, which fought a border war with Eritrea in 1998-2000, enjoys good relations with Djibouti. The two countries have a defence alliance.


Source: BBC

1 Comment

  1. Hi guys,

    As an Ethiopian, it is the welfare of Ethiopia and Ethiopians that concerns me first; the rest including the welfare of Eritrea and Eritreans comes second.

    The tension between Eritrea and Djibouti might constitute both an opportunity and a risk for Ethiopia. An opportunity if the situation enables Ethiopia to reassert herself as a stabilizing force and power broker in the sub-region. For this Ethiopia will have to play the diplomatic and political game right. A risk if Djibouti goes to war with Eritria which might drag Ethiopia to the war as well. As the BBC said, Ethiopia and Djibouti have defence allance pact.

    Up until now, the AU and UN are on the same side urging Eritrea and Djibouti to resolve their differences peacefully. That’s a position in line with international law and practice. The problem, however, is there is no call for Eritrea to withdraw its forces from the territory and island claimed by Djibouti as well. It is only if Eritrea withdraws that new mediation, conciliation or arbitration can be tried. The ICJ is also an option but if withdrawal is effected and buffer zone created and peacekeepers deployed.

    Without Eritrea’s withdrawal, peaceful settlement of the tension via mediation, conciliation or arbitration or other judicial process might remain on paper unless it is in Eritrea’s favour. In all probability as confirmed by its track record, Eritrea will not withdraw from the territory it occupies if it loses in a judicial process making conflict to force her out inevitable. The sub-region has such a history of refusing to withdraw and allowing it to repeat would, in the long run, affect the peace and stability of the countries of the sub-region.

    Eritrea did to Djibouti what it exactly did to Ethiopia in 1997/98. It moved its ragtag militia to occupy the territory claimed by both countries. To reverse the situation, Ethiopia had to go to war with Eritrea. It was after Eritrea was defeated and forced out of the territory it occupied that it humbled itself and sat to talk peace and sign for arbitration. Eritrea has also forced UNMEE from the area. Still stuck in its pre-war intransigent political posturing, Eritrea has refused to talk with Ethiopia to solve its outstanding boundary issues. But the territory Eritrea claims is still in Ethiopia’s hands with no possibility of recovering it (in whole or in part) without humbling itself once again and sit to talk.

    Now, the question is would Djibouti let Eritrea keep the territory it has occupied or force her out. The BBC reported yesterday that Djibouti’s Foreign Minister accused Eritrea of occupying disputed territory on the border.” (published above by the Zehabesha). The BBC quoted the Minister to have said “ . . . his country wanted a peaceful solution but was ready for conflict if necessary.” It’s not clear why the Minister has not demanded the immediate withdrawal of the Eritrean army from the territory it occupied. I think that should have been the “first order of things” in the press statement; Ethiopia did that in 1997.

    Since Eritrea has not denied the occupation of the disputed territory and island, the “first order of things” for the AU and UN should have also been to call for Eritrea’s withdrawal. That has not happened until now. Maybe they are waiting for the report of the AU Fact Finding Mission report which will confirm that Eritrea has indeed illegally occupied the territory and the island. Once this fact is confirmed, they are expected to call for the withdrawal. If Eritrea refuses to withdraw which most expect it would, then Djibouti might move its army to force Eritrea out.

    The call for Eritrea’s withdrawal from the territory and island it occupied should have as well come from Ethiopia without waiting for AU Fact Finding Mission’s report. After all, Eritrea has not denied it. As a member of the Security Council and a country with vested interest in the peace and security of Djibouti and a neighbour of both Eritrea and Djibouti, it should have taken initiative to show direction in addressing the problem. Making such a call would have not compromised Ethiopia’s “impartiality” as a power broker and a stabilizing force in the sub region. It is sad it failed to draw the attention of the international community by invoking international law and practice which sanctions illegal occupation territories.

    Apart from its failure to call Eritrea’s withdrawal, Ethiopia’s position on the tension between Eritrea – Djibouti seems to work to her advantage. The whole development re-establishes Eritrea’s track record of use of force to solve problems with its neighbours. Isaias Afeworki is seen as a naughty boy in the neighbourhood nobody would be sorry if gotten rid of. Anybody in his position would be have been extremely careful of this new development.

    Why should Afeworki be careful? As the BBC suggested “any military conflict between Eritrea and Djibouti has the risk of inflaming the much serious and longer running border row between Eritrea and Ethiopia.” If Djibouti goes to war with Eritrea, Ethiopia will also go to war with Eritrea since Ethiopia and Djibouti have a defence alliance. According to the defence “pact”, Djibouti at war means Ethiopia at war too.

    As much as there is interest of Ethiopia in the stability and security of Djibouti, Western nations fighting terrorism in the sub region have interest too. They would be unhappy with any action messing up with Djibouti.

    Guys, let’s see the larger picture.

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