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Horn of Africa neighbours clash
Horn of Africa neighbours clash

Troops from Djibouti and Eritrea have fired shots at each other along their shared border, the Djiboutian military said in a statement.

The clashes took place on Tuesday in the Ras Doumeira area where Eritrean troops reportedly carried out an incursion on April 16, sparking tensions between the two Horn of Africa neighbours.

"During the pursuit of an Eritrean deserter who tried to rally the Djiboutian armed forces, the Eritrean military opened fire on our units at around 12:30am [0930 GMT]," the Djioutian army said in a statement.

"The Djiboutian armed forces retaliated with their weapons."

The army said that Eritrean military officials then issued an ultimatum for Djibouti to return all 30 Eritrean deserters on its soil or face armed action.

"At 6:40pm [1540 GMT], under the cover of darkness and prayer time, Eritrean troops opened fire on our soldiers," the statement said.

"In the face of this attack, our military struck back ... As this statement is published, the fighting continues."


The fighting is the first since Djibouti accused Eritrean forces of digging trenches on both sides of the border, infringing several hundred metres on to Djiboutian territory, an accusation Asmara has vehemently denied.

The claims began a tense stand-off which raised fears of an all-out military confrontation at the southern end of the Red Sea, one of the world's busiest shipping lanes.

Djibouti and Eritrea had twice previously clashed over the border area.

In April 1996 they almost went to war after a Djibouti official accused Eritrea of shelling the town of Ras Doumeira.

And in 1999, Eritrea accused Djibouti of siding with Asmara's rival Ethiopia, while Djibouti accused its neighbour of supporting Djiboutian rebels and having designs on the Ras Doumeira region.

According to international human rights organisations, thousands of young Eritreans attempt to leave their country every year.

Ethiopia recently reported that 1,300 Eritrean had defected and crossed the border in the last six months.

Djibouti is backed by France and the United States, both of which have big military bases in the country, while Eritrea is accused of backing anti-government fighters in Somalia and is involved in a long-running border standoff with Ethiopia.

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Djibouti-Eritrean Clash Called Minor Incident, But Adds to Regional Volatility

By Joe DeCapua

De Capua interview with David Shinn - Listen (MP3) audio clip

VOA News

11 June 2008

Tuesday, troops from Djibouti and Eritrea clashed along their common border, reportedly leaving a number of soldiers dead or wounded. There have been tensions between the two countries in recent months.

For a closer look at the incident, VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua spoke with David Shinn, former US ambassador to Ethiopia and a professor at George Washington University.

“I think it’s playing into a competition that is going on between particularly Ethiopia and Eritrea throughout the region. And we certainly have seen that in Somalia it self and I think it’s starting to play out to some extent in the case of Djibouti. Djibouti has been an important ally of Ethiopia, particularly economically, in terms of virtually all Ethiopian exports and imports passing through the port of Djibouti. This of course is a huge moneymaker for Djibouti, so it’s in their interest to continue this relationship. Eritrea may see the concept of putting pressure on Djibouti as perhaps indirectly creating some additional concern in Addis Ababa,” he says.

How important was Tuesday’s incident? Shinn says, “In the grand scheme of things (it’s) a very minor development.… We’re talking about small numbers of forces. We’re talking about a very tiny piece of territory that is in fact in dispute going back to a 1900 treaty between France and Italy that never properly demarcated the border itself. So, there is reason for Eritrea to be concerned about who owns the actual land, but this is obviously no way to deal with the problem. It should go to binding arbitration or something.”

Asked whether the clash makes the overall region even more volatile, he says, “It clearly does that, although I don’t want to overstate the importance of the Djibouti-Eritrean issue, in spite of the fact there were apparently some casualties along that border yesterday. That’s unfortunate. I think that may be a one-time kind of event. Although you could have a similar outbreak of violence that’s instigated for local reasons because you’ve got soldiers facing each other cheek-to-jowl along that border. You could always have another incident. But I really don’t think it will result in a major conflict…. It’s just one more thing to worry about. In the Horn of Africa there are far too many things to worry about.”

Shinn says countries such as the United States need an overall policy for the region. “You have to look at the region as a whole. You can’t try to address any of these issues by looking separately at one country. I mean obviously there are bilateral relationships and you have bilateral dealings with each country. But if you treat your policy on strictly a bilateral basis it’s almost guaranteed to fail,” he says.
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