Update on Djibouti-Eritrea Clash


Back in June, clashes between the regular armed forces of Djibouti and Eritrea left scores of people dead. At the time, little was known about what sparked the fighting and which side was to blame. Djibouti claimed that Eritrean soldiers raided a border outpost inside Djibouti territory. Eritrea denied the it was to blame.

Amidst a general state of confusion, the Security Council ordered the UN to send a fact finding mission to assess what took place and offer recommendations to resolve the conflict. Unfortunately, the Eritrean government refused to speak to the UN officials, or grant them visas. (Read this post for some background on why Eritrea might harbor a grudge against the UN.)

So, the fact finding mission’s report really only reflects Djibouti’s side of the story, which is as follows:

The two countries previously agreed that Eritrean civil engineers should construct a road linking a town in Eritrea to a town in Djibouti (but to which Eritrea periodically makes claim). As civil engineers build the road, their are joined by Eritrean Defense Forces, which start digging trenches and fortifying the disputed border town. A military build-up ensues, but Eritrean Defense Forces start defecting to the Djibouti lines. Eritrea demands Djibouti hands back the deserters. Djibouti refuses Eritrea’s ultimatum. The remaining Eritrean forces opens fire on the Djibouti line. At least 44 people are killed.

That was in June. So what to do now? The Secretary General says that first and foremost, Eritrea must cooperate.

To provide momentum for such a political process, both countries must be made to believe that it is in their vested interest to have a balanced fact-finding mission, which would reach conclusions only after hearing from both sides. The Djibouti authorities have so far cooperated and facilitated the work of the fact-finding mission; the onus is now on the Eritrean leadership. If Eritrea alleges an invasion by Ethiopia or aggression by Djibouti, as it has done, then it has an international obligation and responsibility to cooperate with the United Nations to establish the facts

The report concludes that it is in neither side’s interests to escalate this conflict. That’s true. The Horn of Africa hardly needs another war.