24 June 2008
Press Conference

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

PRESS CONFERENCE BY PRIME MINISTER OF DJIBOUTI, MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS,


INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION OF DJIBOUTI on border crisis with Eritrea


With all diplomatic efforts exhausted for ending the aggression that had been sparked on 10 June along Djibouti’s border with Eritrea, the Prime Minister of Djibouti, Deleita Mohamed Deleita, announced today at a Headquarters press conference that he was presenting the situation to the Security Council on behalf of peace and security for the troubled Horn of Africa region.


Joining the Prime Minister in the press conference was Mahamoud Ali Youssouf, Djibouti’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, who said that the desired outcome of today’s meeting was for the Security Council to mandate the Secretary-General to send a fact-finding mission to both countries and to the site of controversy, and then to report back to the Security Council.  If Eritrea refused to receive that mission, it would be up to the Security Council to take the necessary measures.  At the same time, it would show that Eritrea was unwilling to resolve the issue peacefully.


In introductory remarks, Prime Minister Deleita said the aggression at the border had been building for months after a long period of calm, and it had claimed victims and left deserters.  Eritrea had denied the aggression, but the evidence was apparent in the form of prisoners, deaths, casualties, damage, and so forth.  Eritrea had to be made to accept, before the international community, that it was on the “wrong side of the story” and that it could not deny having committed aggression against Djibouti.  Then, it must pull back to the status quo ante, or previous boundary, without allowing the incursions to continue.


His country had reached out to Eritrea bilaterally at every level even before the latest aggression but no headway had been made, the Prime Minister said.  The League of Arab States had sent a goodwill mission in April, and the African Union had sent one from 5 to 10 June.  Eritrea had refused them visas.  Some influential Heads of State had lent their good offices, visiting the border from Djibouti’s side, but Eritrea had rejected every one of the goodwill missions.


Additionally, he said the Security Council had issued a strong presidential statement calling on Eritrea to withdraw to the status quo ante with condemnation.  Djibouti had pulled back, as had Eritrea at first, but unfortunately they had returned and recaptured the areas Djibouti had vacated.  Djibouti’s position was very clear:  all forces should be out and all militaries should disengage so that dialogue and peaceful overtures from both sides could be entertained.


Asked about the “deserters” left by the aggression, and whether Djibouti’s role as host to the recent peace process in Somalia could have been a factor in the clash, as alleged, Foreign Minister Youssouf said that the first shots had been fired by defecting Eritrean soldiers entering his country.  Then, of course, Djibouti troops had been compelled to respond.  But the numbers of deserters or defecting soldiers had been growing since the Eritrean Government had sent troops to the border in early February.  By now, more than 100 had entered.  Then during the 11 to 12 June aggression, there had been casualties, and prisoners had been taken on both sides.


He added that Djibouti had implemented the Security Council presidential statement of 12 June and had pulled back inside its territory.  Eritrea had taken advantage of the situation by capturing more land and strengthening its position on Ras Doumeira and Doumeira Island, thereby rejecting the provision insisting that both countries should withdraw their troops to the status quo ante.


Regarding the Somali peace conference in Djibouti, he said that the peace deal worked out with the Government of Somalia and negotiation with the opposition was not seen by the Eritrean Government as a step forward in Somalia’s political process.  But that was a “miscalculation” because, even though Eritrea was trying to keep Ethiopian troops in Somalia and maybe the country thought that would help on other fronts in its strategic positioning in the framework of the open war with Ethiopia, that was not the only possible cause for the aggression.  There were many possibilities.


One important possibility, he said, was in relation to Eritrea’s 1996 attempt to take over the same position because it was very strategic.  Ras Jumeirah was just looming over the Bab al-Mandeb Strait, a very highly frequented maritime route and very narrow waterway.  The international response to the attempted takeover had been so strong that Eritrea had been forced to withdraw its claims.  Now, perhaps, it felt the international community was only interested in the case with Ethiopia.  Or maybe the aggression was due to “divergencies” with the United States, which had a base in Djibouti.  Regardless, the Eritrean Government had not responded to any diplomatic moves, bilaterally or at the multilateral level.  “It’s a stalemate, a deadlock.  We’re stuck.”


Yet, the motive behind the aggression had to be identified, he stressed, because until that occurred, mediation was out of the question and moving to the arbitration stage would be difficult.  Furthermore, Djibouti could not afford the stalemate and to have all those forces mobilized at that border.  It needed to focus on development, the energy crisis, food security and so many other issues that it could not afford to wage war.  Moreover, there had to be accountability before the international community for the lives lost, and a statement that countries were not above international law.


Replying to another question, he said his President had talked with Yemen’s President, who had said that the crisis was fabricated by the State Department in Washington and that Eritrea had no problem with Djibouti.  But that was unacceptable.  People were being killed.  Villages were being burned.  It was unacceptable to say it would all be worked out bilaterally once the crisis subsided.  That was running away from responsibilities as good neighbours, and it indicated a hidden agenda at that very strategic and very important place.  They wanted to control the Bab al-Mandeb.  They did not have the means or capacity to control it, but they were trying.  Leaving Eritrea to position its troops on the Bab al-Mandeb was a danger for the international community, not just for Djibouti, because it was the most frequented maritime route, through which all the oil supplies for Europe and the United States passed.  That was the core of the issue.


Asked for a response to allegations by Eritrea that Djibouti was being used as a spearhead by the Americans and the French to bring instability to their country, he said that France had been stationed in Djibouti since 1862.  There had been no threat to the country or its people since independence.  The American presence was in the framework of the coalition fighting terrorism.  Djibouti had very clear agreements with the French and with the Americans not to threaten neighbouring country interests from Djibouti.  “Our neutrality is our own asset to live in peace in this troubled region,” he said, adding that Djibouti would not gamble with its neutrality or leave it to others, as that would place it in a very dangerous situation.  Somalia was one border, the problem of Eritrea and Ethiopia was another, and the Sudan was not far from Djibouti.


[Unofficial interpretation for the Prime Minister’s remarks was provided by Djibouti’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations.]


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For information media • not an official record