24 June 2008
Security Council
SC/9372

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Security Council

5924th Meeting (PM)


ADDRESSING SECURITY COUNCIL, DJIBOUTI’S PRIME MINISTER SAYS ERITREA CONTINUES


MASSIVE ARMED INCURSION, THREATENING TO PUSH BOTH SIDES INTO FRATRICIDAL WAR


Eritrea’s Representative Denies Incursions, Territorial Ambition;

Asserts Current Provocative Campaign Was ‘Designed and Packaged Elsewhere’


Members of the Security Council this afternoon urged the withdrawal of Eritrean and Djiboutian troops from a disputed area in Ras Doumeira on the Red Sea coast and called for dialogue between the two Horn of African countries to avert further escalation of the border crisis that had flared this month.


They also called for an immediate return to the situation that had existed before the current tension, and respect for the Security Council presidential statement of 12 June -- in which the 15-member body had condemned Eritrea’s military action against Djibouti, and through which both parties were called on to commit to a ceasefire.


Underlining the gravity of the situation, Deleita Mohamed Deleita, the Prime Minister of Djibouti –- whose Government had requested an emergency meeting of the Council in an 11 June letter before that body today -- said attacks by Eritrea since 10 June had caused much death and injury.  Eritrean troops had not only invaded Djiboutian soil, but were occupying and building on it. 


The Prime Minister said that Eritrean troops were continuing their incursion through massive armed force, which he suspected was motivated by the desire to build a new modern port, in order to become a regional trading centre.  The area concerned was a key point for shipping to Asia and Africa and was of strategic military importance.  While Djibouti was not aggressive, it would exercise its right to protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity, if needed.


He assured Council members that Djiboutian diplomacy had been active bilaterally and multilaterally.  On the other hand, Eritrea had denied any conflict and had meanwhile reinforced its position, which could push both countries into a fratricidal war no one wanted.  The international community was asked to put all its weight to bear to preserve stability in the region.


Calling those accusations “baseless”, the representative of Eritrea denied that his country had made any incursions into the territory of Djibouti, or that it had any territorial ambition in the region. 


He added that it was his Government’s belief that the current provocative campaign had been “designed and packaged elsewhere”, and that its underlying objective was to use Djibouti as a Trojan horse to divert Eritrea from its legal pursuit to ensure Ethiopia’s eviction from its sovereign territories, in accordance with the final and binding determinations of the Border Commission. 


He further explained that the Ethiopian regime had set up a new military camp on Mount Musa Ali, perched on a border junction of the three countries, with long-range artillery and heavy equipment directed at Eritrea. 


He went on to say that the architect of the present crisis was the United States’ State Department.  Eritrea had already lost more than 60,000 lives in its war of liberation, and close to 20,000 in Ethiopia’s wars of aggression.  Much of that had been caused by the painful and unjustified machinations of the United States against it.  The Council should look into the matter and take appropriate actions against the United States, he urged.


The representative of France -- who was commended by several Council members for helping craft a statement on the issue to be delivered to the press after the meeting -- noted that the border dispute had become international in nature, and that the issue had already been discussed by the Council.  In fact, the Council on 12 June had condemned Eritrea’s attacks and called on it to withdraw its troops.  Along with most Council members, he called on the two countries to settle the conflict through diplomatic means, with the involvement not only of African support, but also of European mediation.  


Representing the African Union, Alice Mungwa, that body’s Senior Political Affairs Adviser, said that the African Union Commission had dispatched an assessment and consultation mission, which had been received by the authorities of Djibouti and was still waiting to be received by Eritrea.  The African Union had strongly condemned the use of force -- as had the League of Arab States, whose representative also spoke -- and stressed the need to respect the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of Member States.


A representative of the League of Arab States further stated that the group had sent a fact-finding mission to the disputed region in May, where it had met with officials from Djibouti.  Meetings had also been sought with Eritrean officials, but there had been no response.


Also speaking were the representatives of Indonesia, Burkina Faso, Russian Federation, China, South Africa, Viet Nam, Libya, Panama, United Kingdom, Italy, Costa Rica, Belgium, Croatia and the United States.


Briefing the Council on the situation was the Director of the Africa Division of the Department of Political Affairs, Joao Honwana, who explained that, since the United Nations did not have a presence in the area, his briefing relied on reports received from other sources.  He reported that the situation had been described as calm but tense, with military regrouping occurring on either side of the border.  The de facto ceasefire of last week had continued to hold.


The meeting opened at 3:40 p.m. and adjourned at 4:25 p.m.


Background


The Security Council met this afternoon to take up the situation involving Djibouti and Eritrea under the item “Peace and Security in Africa”.  It had before it a letter dated 11 June from the Permanent Representative of Djibouti to the United Nations addressed to the Security Council President (document S/2008/387).  Annexed to it is a letter from Djibouti’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Mahmoud Ali Youssouf, requesting that the Council convene an emergency meeting “in view of the gravity of the situation on the border (between Djibouti and Eritrea)”, in order “to put an end to the aggression by the Eritrean armed forces”.


Briefing


JOAO HONWANA, Director of the Africa Division of the Department of Political Affairs, said the United Nations did not have a presence in the area, and so his briefing would rely on reports received from other sources. 


Since the last briefing, the situation had been described as calm but tense, with military regrouping occurring on either side of the border, he said, adding that the de facto ceasefire of last week had continued to hold.


According to local Somali radio, Eritrea had reportedly deployed heavy military equipment in Ras Doumeira, north-east of Obock.  Another source reported a reinforcement of Eritrean troops near the town of Daddato, located north-west of Obock.  That might indicate tension, both towards the north-west and north-east of Djibouti.  A Somali newspaper had reported that an Eritrean gunboat had been sunk after being hit by a missile on 15 June.  It was not known whether the missile had been fired by a French warship or the Djibouti navy.  Press and other sources reported that Djibouti forces had regrouped at the border, while others had said they had retreated out of range of Eritrean mortars.  Ethiopian troops were also reported to be at the border.


Reportedly, he went on, some 300 French troops had appeared in the north-east of Djibouti to provide medical and logistical support.  The State Secretary of the French Ministry of Defence was expected to arrive today to discuss the border crisis with the Djibouti President and to visit French troops.  On the Eritrean side, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Eritrea had issued a press statement on 11 June, accusing Djibouti of conducting anti-Eritrea hostile campaigns, and concocting animosity.  On 12 June, Eritrean radio had blamed Djibouti for what was happening at the border.  The United States was said to have inflamed regional conflicts when its State Department published a press release condemning Eritrean actions against Djibouti.


He said that the League of Arab States had called on Eritrea to withdraw, and the Governments of France and Egypt had urged Eritrea to allow mediation.  Also on 12 June, the African Union joined the United Nations in calling for talks to end the clashes.  The African Union Peace and Security Council had urged maximum restraint and a diplomatic dialogue. 


The United Nations Secretariat had remained in close contact with colleagues in neighbouring regions, and was meeting with the Permanent Representatives to receive views on both sides, he said.  In such meetings, the Eritrean side acknowledged the skirmishes, saying that the Djiboutian side had initiated it and that Eritrea had only reacted in self-defence.  The United States was blamed for creating wars in the region.  It was further learned that the African Group would hold a meeting with the League of Arab States on the topic on 23 June, which would involve the Eritrean Prime Minister and Foreign Minister.  The Permanent Representative of Eritrea had said that Djibouti’s “dramatization and internationalization” of the issue had gotten out of hand. 


From the Djibouti side, the Permanent Representative had said that the situation was highly risky and could ignite into a war at any minute, he said.  So far, many soldiers had died, and there were many troops and much heavy equipment at the border.   Eritrea had failed to explain its presence in the area, and had refused to resume dialogue with Djibouti.   Yemen’s offer to act as mediator had been rebuffed.  Djibouti, in fact, had been forced to respond to Eritrea’s attacks, which had been costly to Djibouti.  Both sides needed to return to the status quo ante.


He noted that the Secretary-General had had an excellent meeting with the Prime Minister of Djibouti yesterday, in which the Prime Minister had reiterated that “this was a war situation”.  They had agreed on the need to resolve the situation through dialogue and confidence-building.  The United Nations believed that the ceasefire should be consolidated, the matter should be settled peacefully and the status quo ante should be restored.


Statements


DELEITA MOHAMED DELEITA, Prime Minister of Djibouti, said that attacks against his country by Eritrea since 10 June, which had caused death and injury, had brought him to the Security Council.  Eritrean troops had not only invaded Djiboutian soil, but were occupying it, even building on it.  For lack of a clear explanation from that country, he suspected it was motivated by greed and the desire to build a new modern port, in order to become a regional trading centre.  In addition, he surmised that the action was an attempt to regionalize the conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia. 


The international community must put all its weight to bear to preserve stability in the region, he said, because the Eritrean authorities were not forthcoming about the attack and remained in a state of denial.  Djibouti was not aggressive, but it should not be seen as being weak or fearful; it would exercise its right, if needed, to protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity.  Otherwise, his country was well known as a peaceful haven in an otherwise turbulent region.  Djiboutian diplomacy had been active bilaterally and multilaterally, and had requested this meeting of the Security Council. 


On the other hand, Eritrea had denied any conflict and had meanwhile reinforced its position, which could push both countries into a fratricidal war no one wanted, he said.  The failure of Eritrea to honour its obligations under the United Nations Charter was clear, and he pledged that Djibouti would fulfil its Charter obligations.  The area concerned was a key point for shipping to Asia and Africa and was of strategic military importance.  At the moment, Eritrean troops were continuing their incursion, through massive armed force. 


Djibouti must not be faced with a choice between the status quo and war, he said.  The Council must act to prevent both.  The results of war were unpredictable, but would surely cause a tragic loss of human life.  To prevent it, his Government was prepared to cooperate with the Security Council to resolve the situation peacefully.


ARAYA DESTA ( Eritrea) expressed regret over Djibouti’s decision to level baseless accusations against his Government in the past two months.  Eritrea had made no incursions into the territory of Djibouti and had no territorial ambition in the region.  There had been numerous contacts between the two Governments, including at the highest levels, at which their two leaders had decided to address the situation in a calm manner.  But for reasons best known to Djibouti, the understanding reached by highest offices of both countries had been put aside and the matter taken to the public arena with “totally unwarranted, anti-Eritrea hostile campaigns”. 


He said that, although attempts to drag Eritrea into animosity had continued, his country had chosen the path of restraint and patience.  It was keenly aware that the current provocative campaign had been designed and packaged elsewhere.  Djibouti and its people could not have had any interest in the present affair; the issue was not a matter that concerned Djibouti.  There was no dispute between Eritrea and Djibouti, and its unwarranted hostile campaign was underpinned and synchronized with other ulterior motives and regional developments.


On 22 April, the Ethiopian regime had set up a new military camp on Mount Musa Ali, deploying long-range artillery and heavy equipment directed at Eritrea, with knowledge of its backers, he said.  Musa Ali was perched on a border junction of the three countries.  The Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission, in the course of its delimitation efforts, had determined the respective sovereignties of both countries at that junction.  Ethiopia’s actions were in violation of that agreement.


He said that Eritrea’s restraint in the face of that provocation had frustrated the forces that had wanted to stir trouble in the region.  As a result, the hostile campaign had been put in motion, so that, on 10 June, the Government of Djibouti had been pushed to launch a provocative military attack on Eritrean units at the border.  Those attacks had started at 7 p.m. and had continued until 11 June.  To avoid attack, Eritrea had pulled back its forces.  When Djibouti had persisted in its attacks on 12 June, accompanied by the use of helicopters, Eritrea had returned fire.  At that point, the Government of Djibouti cried foul.


The Security Council statement of 12 June was one-sided, he said.  The underlying objective of the military provocation had been to use Djibouti as a Trojan horse to divert Eritrea from its legal pursuit to ensure Ethiopia’s eviction from its sovereign territories, in accordance with the final and binding determinations of the Border Commission, by embroiling Eritrea on another front.  The architect of the so-called crisis was the United States State Department, and it was no coincidence that Djibouti’s attack had coincided with that country’s presidency of the Security Council.  The other institutions that had been seized with the matter had maintained a deafening silence on Ethiopia’s violations of the African Union Charter and its occupation of sovereign Eritrean territory for the past six years.


He stressed that Eritrea would not be plunged into a crisis through provocations, enticements and other mendacious accusations to become the scapegoat for misguided policies that had failed in the region.  If the Council was genuinely concerned about maintaining peace in the region, it would examine seriously, and take appropriate measures against, the misguided acts of the United States Government.  Peace was dear to Eritrea, which had already lost more than 60,000 lives in its war of liberation, and close to 20,000 in Ethiopia’s wars of aggression.  Much of that had been caused by the painful and unjustified machinations of the United States against it, to which the Security Council could not continue to be a party.


JEAN-MAURICE RIPERT ( France) said that the border dispute had become international in nature.  It had already been discussed by the Security Council, and France had already condemned the aggression.  The Council had condemned Eritrea’s attacks and called on it to withdraw its troops.  It was essential that the country respected the statement of 12 June.  Djiboutian troops had withdrawn, but the Eritrean troops had not. 


He said that the two countries had a new opportunity to settle the conflict through diplomatic means, with the involvement not only of African but also of European mediation.  The delimitation of the border had never been completely settled, and it was important to finish that task.  France stood ready to assist.  Regrettably, Eritrea had not heeded the 12 June Council statement, and a United Nations fact-finding mission might be considered.


MARTY NATALEGAWA ( Indonesia) said that the recent clash between Eritrea and Djibouti had deeply concerned his Government, which was troubled by the prospect of further aggravation to the already volatile situation in the Horn of Africa.  Indeed, that situation could develop in an unanticipated direction, owing to the “chain of action-and-reaction” and “perception-and-misperception”.  The resort to military force was unacceptable, and he encouraged both parties to resort to a peaceful settlement of their dispute, calling on them to do so expeditiously, including through third-party mediation, as necessary.


He commended the African Union and the Arab League for their role in assisting in the resolution of the conflict.  Ultimately, peace and stability along the border must be maintained.  The quest for peace was particularly critical in light of the volatility in the Horn of Africa.


MICHEL KAFANDO ( Burkina Faso), recalling the 12 June Council statement, said he was still concerned over the tensions and urged both countries to refrain from force and avail themselves of all international initiatives to settle the situation peacefully.  It was crucial to spare their respective populations from the scourge of a new conflagration with unpredictable consequences.  He urged the international community to continue to help, and expressed support for the draft press statement submitted by France.


KONSTANTIN DOLGOV ( Russian Federation) also expressed full agreement with the 12 June statement, calling on both countries to exercise maximum restraint and pull back their forces to the status quo ante.  He also called on them to settle their differences peacefully and in accordance with the United Nations Charter.  The Secretary-General could contribute as well through the use of his good offices.  The stability of the Horn of Africa must be sustained.


LIU ZHENMIN ( China) said he found the situation worrisome, and called on both parties to exercise restraint and resolve their differences through negotiation, accepting the mediation assistance of regional organizations, as well as of the Security Council.


DUMISANI KUMALO ( South Africa) said that the situation facing the Council and the African Union was very difficult.  He appealed to both Djibouti and Eritrea to not use force, and supported the African Union’s call to immediately return to the situation prevailing before the outbreak of crisis.  The good offices of the Secretary-General must be called on to help resolve the dispute.  Hopefully, the two countries would heed the call of the international community and do everything in their power to resolve their differences peacefully.


HOANG CHI TRUNG ( Viet Nam) expressed concern at the escalation of tension at the border of Eritrea and Djibouti.  He underlined the importance of maintaining the territorial integrity of States, stressing that any solution to the problem should be consistent with international law.  The parties to the conflict should restrain themselves from the use, or threat of use, of force, while intensifying dialogue to de-escalate the tension between them.  The primary responsibility to resolve the issue rested with the parties themselves. 


He commended the African Union and the Arab League for their efforts to ease the tension, and expressed appreciation for the efforts of the Arab Peace and Security Council to mediate the situation.  He was encouraged by the Secretary-General’s attempts to coordinate regional efforts through the use of his good offices, and to reach out to both parties to encourage an immediate return to the pre-crisis situation.  That would include a withdrawal of all forces that had built up along the border since February.


GIADALLA ETTALHI ( Libya) expressed deep sorrow and concern over the recent military confrontations between the two neighbours.  The Horn of Africa had paid a high price as a result of armed conflict, in terms of its poor economic development -- to name one issue.  Armed conflicts were receding elsewhere in the world, but such conflicts were growing more intense in that part of the continent.  Hopefully, the Council could prevent the escalation of those conflicts and help find peaceful solutions to them. 


He noted that the Council had had trouble settling the Eritrean and Ethiopian question, and had found it similarly difficult to settle the situation in Somalia.  He hoped that situation would not prevail under the present circumstance.  Condemning the use of force, the Libyan Government called on the two countries to engage in dialogue and to heed relevant Arab League and Security Council resolutions.  He urged both parties to return to the status quo ante, and called on all African States to respect their post-colonial borders.  He supported the statement to the press, to be delivered by the Council shortly.


RICARDO ALBERTO ARIAS ( Panama) said that the United Nations respected the territorial integrity of States, including border agreements.  If two neighbours had border disputes, they should be resolved through bilateral negotiations.  If no agreement could be reached, the case should go to the International Court of Justice.  In the event that such disputes jeopardized international security, the Council must act to prevent the escalation of armed conflict, including through dialogue.  He appealed to both parties to withdraw their military forces and to immediately initiate bilateral conversations, while making use of the good offices and mechanisms provided by the United Nations.  The Secretary-General should keep the Council informed of any new developments.


DAVID QUARREY ( United Kingdom) said he was glad to learn that the situation between Eritrea and Djibouti was calm at the moment, though it was still clearly fragile.  He reiterated the position of the 12 June presidential statement, including condemnation of the Eritrean incursion and regret for the loss of life.  He also paid tribute to the African Union, the League of Arab States and other States in helping to resolve the issue peacefully, and urged Eritrea, in particular, to engage with those efforts.  He supported the draft press statement submitted by France.


MARCELLO SPATAFORA ( Italy) appealed to the two parties to express their contradictory positions at the negotiating table and not on the field of battle, hoping that their presence in the Council signalled their commitment to find a peaceful solution to their dispute.  He appealed to the Council, as well, to take on its full role in conflict prevention in regard to this case, saying that, in order to do so, it was necessary to assess the facts on the ground and make use of the good offices of the Secretary-General.  He also lent his support to the draft press statement submitted by France.


JORGE URBINA ( Costa Rica) said that the Horn of Africa did not have the luxury of becoming embroiled in another conflict.  To prevent that, regional organizations could bring valuable mediation support, highlighting in that regard the efforts being exerted by the African Union and the League of Arab States.  He appealed to both countries to turn to dialogue to resolve their differences.


JAN GRAULS ( Belgium) said he agreed with the sentiments expressed so far, adding that the incidents had caused many deaths and could degenerate substantially, thus posing a threat to the entire region.  He reminded both countries of their commitment to dialogue.  He praised all those that had helped find a peaceful settlement, and urged the Secretary-General to continue with his efforts.  Belgium also supported the launching of United Nations fact-finding missions, and expressed appreciation for the efforts by the French delegate in providing the appropriate language for a Council statement to the press.


RANKO VILOVIC ( Croatia) said he also shared the concerns expressed by others, noting that the issue was all the more serious in light of all the sensitivities faced by the region.  He valued the experience of having heard from the parties themselves today, and of hearing from various regional organizations, whose efforts at facilitating a peaceful settlement were commendable.  He renewed the call to all parties to exercise restraint, to withdraw their forces from the border, and to resolve the solution through peaceful means, including through third-party mediation, if needed.  He condemned the use of force, and added that any solution must respect the principles of national sovereignty and territorial integrity.  The coming statement to the press was welcome. 


ALEJANDRO D. WOLFF ( United States) recalled his country’s support for the 12 June presidential statement and maintained that Eritrea had since remained in a hostile military posture towards Djibouti.  He reiterated the call to both parties, particularly Eritrea, to return to the status quo ante, to exercise restraint and resolve all differences through negotiation.  If Eritrea maintained its present course, the Council should consider measures.  Eritrea had been a destabilizing factor in Somalia and had put many obstacles in the way of the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE).  It was not too late for the country to restore its status as a good neighbour in the region.


ALICE MUNGWA, Senior Political Affairs Adviser of the African Union, said that the surprising occurrence of the regrettable incidents under consideration in the Council today were never expected, even remotely, despite persistent tensions in the Horn of Africa as a whole.  The African Union Commission had formally asked the two countries to gather as much information as possible on the situation at their common border, along with the steps they might have taken to resolve the situation amicably.  The Commission had also dispatched an assessment and consultation mission, which had been received by the authorities of Djibouti and was still waiting to be received by Eritrea.


Following the disturbing tensions between the two countries, the African Union Peace and Security Council on 12 June had strongly condemned the use of force and stressed the need to respect the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of Member States, she said.  It called for the immediate return to the border situation that had existed before the current tension, as well as restraint and dialogue.  The Union’s Council would continue to discuss the situation at upcoming meetings and had invited both countries to attend its upcoming summit.  She stressed the importance of their participation at that meeting and reiterated the Council’s appeal and hope that all parties would act positively and constructively for the restoration of peace.


YAHYA MAHMASSANI, Permanent Observer of the League of Arab States, said that the Government of Djibouti had been informing the League, starting in February, of a gradual amassing of Eritrean troops along the border between the two countries.  It had also reported incursions on the Djibouti side in an area overlooking the Red Sea.  In response, the League had sent a fact-finding mission to the Ras Doumeira region in May, where it had met with officials from Djibouti.  Meetings had also been sought with Eritrean officials, but there had been no response.


He said that the League adopted a decision on 12 June stressing the importance of national sovereignty and territorial integrity.  The Government of Eritrea had been called upon to withdraw its forces from the border.  In addition, the Arab Peace and Security Council had called for good neighbourliness to prevail, and on both parties to respect their post-colonial borders.  The Secretary-General of the Arab League had mandated the Peace and Security Council to initiate contacts to bring an end to the tension between the two States, with the knowledge that the crisis could not be resolved with the use, or the threat of use, of force.  Indeed, the only means of settlement was negotiation, and the territorial integrity and stability of States must be upheld throughout the process.


The parties must show restraint, he said, reminding them that a peaceful outcome required that they commit themselves to previous agreements and refrain from involvement in each other’s affairs.  The countries in the Horn of Africa had seen much upheaval and instability, and it behoved all parties to deal quickly with the present crisis.


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