afrol News, 8 June - Djibouti and Eritrea have signed an agreement that see the Qatari government as mediators. Qatar is also to deploy its troops on the Eritrea-Djibouti border in a move that helps out a pressured Djiboutian government.
Qatar's government-controlled news agency 'QNA' yesterday reported that Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki and Djiboutian President Ismail Omar Guelleh had signed the mediation deal. Neither Djiboutian nor Eritrean government sources however have confirmed the deal so far.
Jean Ping, the President of the African Union (AU) Commission today however confirmed the agreement, welcoming the Qatari mediation. According to Mr Ping, the settlement of the Djibouti-Eritrea border conflict would have a positive impact on the overall situation in the Horn of Africa.
According to Qatar's Prime Minister Hamad bin al-Thani, the agreement implies a withdrawal of Eritrean and Djiboutian troops from the disputed Ras Doumeira area at the Red Sea coast while Qatar leads the mediation process. The border area meanwhile will be patrolled by "a few hundred soldiers" from the Qatari army operating as a peacekeeping force.
Prime Minister al-Thani said that the signing of the agreement already had led to all Eritrean forces withdrawing from the disputed border areas. Eritrean troops have been stationed in Ras Doumeira since they launched a surprise attack on the border area in April 2008, causing a shorter border war and massive condemnation from the UN Security Council.
Eritrea is facing UN sanctions for its refusal to withdraw its troops from the disputed border area and for supplying arms to Somali Islamists despite an international arms embargo for Somalia. President Afwerki has made several attempts to break Eritrea's growing isolation lately, hoping for a removal of the damaging UN sanctions.
But also for Djibouti, which is militarily much weaker than Eritrea, the lowering of tension along its border comes with good timing. Stable since the end of civil war in 2000, Djibouti has seen renewed political conflict since President Guelleh in April made parliament amend the constitution to allow for a third term in office.
In May, parts of the oppressed opposition again took to arms. On 31 May, three soldiers were killed in action in northern Djibouti in an ambush by the rebel Front for the Restoration of Unity and Democracy (FRUD) - the first open conflict in a decade.
According to Abdourahman Boreh, an exiled Djiboutian businessman in conflict with the Guelleh administration, there are now fears for a return to civil war in the country. "Now, on a daily basis, there are killings in northern Djibouti, where low-intensity armed clashes could spark national violence," Mr Boreh claims.
Djibouti has a strong strategic importance, located at the entrance of the Red Sea and with neighbours Eritrea hostile to the West and Somalia ridden by chaos and violence. The small country hosts large American and French military bases, key to the international fight against piracy and to anti-terrorism operations in the Middle East and East Africa.
Stability and peace in Djibouti is therefore seen as a high priority for the AU but also for Western powers.
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