- The government of Iran, one of few states being on good terms with both Eritrea and Djibouti, has offered the two Horn neighbours to "promote ties" after troops clashed on the border in June. Djibouti meanwhile is making sure to strengthen its military alliances.
In June, Eritrea moved its troops across the border with Djibouti in an attempt to capture some of the many deserters fleeing its army's harsh conditions. The incident led to heavy clashes with Djibouti troops, the involvement of French troops stationed in Djibouti and the consequent condemnation by the UN and the African Union (AU) over the "Eritrean aggression."
Djibouti in October at a UN accused Eritrea of continuing its "occupation" of Djiboutian soil. Calling the situation very grave, Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh urged the Security Council to demand that Eritrea and Djibouti focus on resolving the crisis within weeks. Since June, President Guelleh said, Djibouti had pulled back its troops from the border area, but "the Eritreans continue to reinforce their troops and perpetrate other incursions on our territory." Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki however claimed "the whole episode has been clarified repeatedly and does not merit repetition."
As the June conflict therefore threatens to return a hot issue, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki today offered his Djiboutian counterpart Mahmoud Ali Youssouf help in restoring ties with Eritrea at a meeting in Tehran. The Djiboutian Minister welcomed the offer and asked for Iran's "help in resolving problems between Eritrea and Djibouti."
Indeed, Iran is one of very few countries in position to mediate between the two parties. Eritrean Dictator Afwerki has been courting Iran ever since he declared the US was Eritrea's "arch-enemy" and severed ties with Western countries. Eritrea hopes for oil imports from Iran. But also Djibouti, a major Western ally at the African Horn, has very friendly relations with Tehran. Iran has proposed to deepen cooperation with Djibouti on fishery, goods transit, trading and energy.
But Djibouti doesn't only count on mediation to solve the conflict with its highly militarised neighbour. While also pressuring the UN Security Council to repeat its condemnation of "Eritrea's aggression," Djibouti also is deepening its military ties with old and new allies.
This weekend, President Guelleh met with the Defence Ministers of France and Spain, both on a working visit in Djibouti. While France is already present at a larger military base in the country, Spain is now also to send troops to Djibouti, mainly with the aim of fighting piracy off the Somali coast as part of an European Union (EU) mission. Also Greece, the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden and Norway are to participate in the Djibouti-based operation, with Malaysia and South Korea expected to join later.
But President Guelleh made sure to engage the French and Spanish ministers in talks about the conflict with Eritrea. The ministers, according to the Djiboutian presidency, reaffirmed their full support. The French Defence Minister recalled the strong and historic friendships between the two countries. French troops also aided Djiboutians during the June clashes with Eritrean troops. Even the US base in Djibouti reportedly assisted its ally with intelligence.
Nothing is left untried to secure Djibouti's territorial interests. Defence Minister Ougoureh Kifleh Ahmed this week even went on a three-day working visit to Khartoum to secure support from Sudan. A "strengthening of the military cooperation relations between the two countries" was on the agenda, according to Djibouti government sources. Eritrea recently has improved its ties with Sudan, but the Khartoum government still is unsure it can trust the Afwerki regime.
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