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Djibouti’s Relations with Eritrea

Relations between Eritrea and Djibouti have alternated between troubled and neighborly. The tension between Eritrea and Djibouti can partially be explained by Djibouti’s close relations with Ethiopia. Eritrea fought to break away from Ethiopia for several decades between the 1960s and the early 1990s; it achieved independence in 1993. Since then, Ethiopia and Eritrea have been in a bitter standoff that ignited between 1998 and 2000. Relations have remained tense and unresolved since the end of fighting. Djibouti benefitted economically from the 1998–2000 Ethiopian–Eritrean conflict because its port became the trade outlet for Ethiopia. Eritrea accused Djibouti of supporting Ethiopia’s war efforts, so Djibouti broke off relations with Eritrea in November 1998. Diplomatic relations between the two nations were not fully reestablished until 2001.

Tension arises partly because the border between them separates members of the Afar ethnic group. Eritrea mediated peace talks in 1994 to end the 3-year civil war in Djibouti. The two countries established joint border operations against the guerrillas, and relations between them were good from 1994 to 1998. However, after the Eritrea-Ethiopia conflict began in 1998, Ethiopia began using the port of Djibouti (because it no longer had access to ports in Eritrea), and Eritrea accused Djibouti of supporting Ethiopia. Djibouti severed ties with Eritrea, resulting in border tensions and discontinued air service by Djiboutian air carriers. However, relations significantly improved since the Eritrea and Ethiopia peace accord was reached.

Since April 2008 there has been tension on Djibouti’s border with Eritrea after an incursion by Eritreans in that area. In April 2008, Djiboutian authorities protested Eritrea's deployment of troops and construction of military fortifications along their common border, particularly on the peninsula of Ras Doumera, near the strategic Bab al Mandeb strait between the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. On June 10, the first exchange of small arms fire occurred between the two countries, when Eritrean forces fired on Eritrean troops fleeing to Djibouti. There were approximately 70 to 80 casualties reported, including approximately 10 deaths.

After minor border conflicts in the 1990s, relations between Eritrea and Djibouti deteriorated in 2008 when Eritrea has deployed its troops in the disputed area of Doumeira - the promontory Ras Doumeira and the island, Jazeera Doumeira located dijboutien territory. This deployment has led to three days of armed clashes of June 10 to 13, 2008 and the death of fifty Djiboutian soldiers and a hundred Eritrean soldiers.

This dispute has been brought to the Djiboutian request, before the United Nations Security Council resolution 1862 condemned military action against Djibouti Eritrea by the Eritrean withdrawal demands and cooperation with Djibouti Asmara, the Secretary General of the United Nations and the African Union for the resolution of the border conflict between the two countries.

Faced with the reluctance of Eritrea, Qatar had undertaken mediation efforts between the two countries since 11 April 2010. Mediation had been a first step 28 May 2010 when the Eritrean agreed to withdraw their troops from Ras Doumeira and allowed the Qatari sending military observers to the border.

In June 2010, Eritrea and Djibouti signed a Qatar-mediated agreement outlining the process by which the Ras Doumeira border will be demarcated.8 The agreement placed Qatar in charge of monitoring the contested border region until the dispute is settled.

Nevertheless, mediation made very little progress since. Obtaining an agreement on the substance - the demarcation of the border between the two countries - mainly faces the question of prisoners of war that Djibouti would like to see discussed ahead of any discussion (during the fighting in June 2008, 19 Djiboutian military and 21 Eritrean soldiers have indeed been captured). While Djibouti has long been no news of his soldiers, two of them escaped from an Eritrean prison in September 2011.

Visitors to Djibouti should not attempt to cross the land border with Eritrea nor travel north of the town of Obock. Civil unrest or armed conflict in neighboring countries could disrupt air travel to and from Djibouti or otherwise negatively affect its security. Travelers should exercise caution when traveling to any remote area of Djibouti, especially near the borders with Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Somalia.

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Page last modified: 25-11-2015 16:18:16 ZULU