Djibouti seeks UN help to avert conflict with Eritrea

May 7, 2008

“We call on the Council to deploy urgently all necessary measures toward preventing yet another conflict,” Djiboutian Foreign Minister Mahmoud Ali Youssouf said.

Pointing to a “progressive growth of Eritrean troops at our common border since February”, he said his country had sought to defuse the crisis through quiet diplomacy and mediation by the Arab league and the African Union.

“Unfortunately, our considerable efforts have failed to elicit any credible response,” Youssouf said in his letter dated Monday and addressed to Britain’s UN Ambassador John Sawers, who chairs the 15-member council this month.

The minister warned of “a real danger of being drawn into an unwarranted confrontation with Eritrea, as both forces are at a heightened alert at the common border” around the Ras Doumeira mountain range, which overlooks the busy Red Sea shipping lanes.

“We consider Eritrea’s move a misguided intimidation and …an undisguised and naked provocation against my country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he added.

Youssouf said Eritrea’s “unwarranted behavior” appears to be motivated by designs over the strategic Ras Doumeira region.

Djibouti has accused Eritrean forces of digging trenches on both sides of the border, infringing several hundred metres (yards) on to Djiboutian territory.

Asmara denied the accusation after which the Arab League’s Peace and Security Council held an emergency session at Djibouti’s request, asking for League Secretary General Amr Moussa to send a fact-finding mission to the area and report back to the League.

The AU last Friday also urged both sides to show restraint and resolve the crisis through dialogue.

Djibouti and Eritrea have clashed twice over the border area situated at the southern end of Red Sea.

In April 1996 they almost went to war after a Djibouti official accused Asmara of shelling the town of Ras Doumeira.

And in 1999, Eritrea accused Djibouti of siding with Asmara’s arch-foe Ethiopia while Djibouti alleged its neighbour was supporting Djiboutian rebels and had designs on the Ras Doumeira region, which Eritrea denied.

Eritrea is also involved in a bitter border dispute with rival Ethiopia, a much bigger neighbor.