afrol News, 31 January - The French government is concerned over its formerly excellent diplomatic ties with its ex-colony after Djibouti last week expelled six French aid workers. The Djiboutians reacting to a French court's summoning of the Djibouti intelligence chief in a new investigation into the death of a French judge in the country in 1995.
French judge Bernard Borrel's body was found soaked in gasoline and half burned outside the Djiboutian capital in October 1995. Shortly after, an inquiry conducted in Djibouti concluded that the judge had taken his own life.
Mr Borrel's widow, Elisabeth, however never accepted this official version of her husband's death. After a legal complaint by Ms Borrel, the case is now taken up again by the Paris court of cassation. The case soon was to cause diplomatic complications between France and Djibouti.
The reopening of the case immediately caused a large number of media reports in France, some of these indicating that Djiboutian authorities had had something to hide during the 1995 investigations. Also the state-owned 'Radio France Internationale' (RFI) - which is received and widely listened to in Djibouti - had a special programme on the Borrel case.
With the airing of the RFI programme, Djiboutian authorities' integrity was questioned on national territory. The programme caused the first reaction from Djibouti, the closing of the RFI transmitter in the country on 14 January.
The diplomatic row was deepened when the Parisian court on 10 January ordered the appearance of Hassan Saeed, the head of Djibouti's intelligence services. Mr Saeed had been accused of forcing an army officer to lie to the inquiry commission looking into the death of Mr Borrel in 1995. Since that, the Djiboutian officer had fled the country and was now a witness in the French court.
The Djiboutian Ministry of Foreign Affairs last week released a strong-worded statement, protesting the French media coverage of the Borrel case and the Paris court's summoning of Mr Saeed. Facts had been seriously distorted, according to Djibouti's Foreign Minister since 1999, Ali Abdi Farah.
First of all, recalled Minister Farah, the legal proceedings surrounding the death of Mr Borrel in 1995 had been conducted by French officials in Djibouti, including French police, military and health officials. "Djibouti authorities did not at any point interfere with the process," the Ministry's statement pointed out.
At the same time, but in a separate move, Djiboutian authorities announced the expulsion of six French aid workers. According to French authorities, these aid workers were "technical assistants" on the French pay roll, contributing to "the economic and social development of Djibouti" in the sectors of health, education, public safety and rural development.
Djibouti has maintained very strong and friendly ties with its ex-colonial masters since independence in 1977. France traditionally has been the main development partner, providing significant amounts of aid and financial support to the strategically placed country. Some 2700 French troops remain stationed in Djibouti under agreements signed at independence.
With the international 'War on Terrorism', however, Djibouti has increased its international importance and reduced its dependence on Paris. Some 1,800 US troops now are stationed in Djibouti, which is the new headquarters for a anti-terrorism Indian Ocean task force. Even Germany has now a military base in the country. The new foreign military presence also contributes significantly to the Djiboutian economy.
With this newfound self-confidence, Foreign Minister Farah made it clear that Djibouti would not accept any French humiliation regarding the Borrel case. Indeed, his loud protests and expulsion of French aid workers caused immediate concern in the Parisian diplomacy headquarters, the Quai d'Orsay.
The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs this weekend issued a statement, saying it "regrets" Djibouti's decision to expel the six aid workers. "France remains attached, more than ever, to maintain a strong cooperation in total partnership with Djibouti."
The communiqué goes far in supporting Minister Farah's earlier statement. "Contrary to the allegations" of French media, Djiboutian authorities had never interfered in the Borrel case. It had been a French investigation, relying on "the excellent cooperation of Djiboutian authorities and justice" in full transparency. French investigators had been assured full access to all places, persons and information they needed, even to classified military secrets, the Quai d'Orsay emphasises.
After this close to total excuse from the French government, also the Parisian court admitted it had done procedural errors. This prompted the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to send an official excuse to the Djiboutian Embassy in France. The court did not have the right to summon a Djiboutian official on it own and should have passed its order through the Quai d'Orsay, the letter said.
The French Head of the Protocol, Jean-Pierre Asvazadourian, personally excused "this regrettable error" and the diplomatic complications following it. France thereby hopes to have resolved its row with Djibouti. Given the diplomatic victory over the former colonial power, however, Djiboutians have also learnt that France is dependent on its only strategic ally in the region.
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