Eritrea at war with Djibouti; France into the breach

As the UN Security Council, Arab League and African Union urge Eritrea to halt military action against neighboring Djibouti, French officers stationed in the Horn of Africa mini-state say that France is providing Djibouti with military support—and preparing to send more troops and war material. Speaking to the official Agence Djiboutienne d’Information (ADI), a French officer identified as Col. Ducret said French forces are “providing assistance in logistics, medical [and] intelligence service to the Djiboutian army.”

The French Defense Ministry, which already has a large military base in Djibouti, says it is developing plans to establish mobile military bases close to the Eritrean border, which would hold back an advance by Eritrean forces.

France already has a large military base in Djibouti, and Paris’ government was among the first to condemn the Eritrean aggression against Djibouti. Only the US State Department’s condemnation of Eritrea was clearer. A State Department spokesperson referred to the border conflict as an Eritrean “military aggression.” The US Africa Command also has a large military presence in Djibouti.

Fighting over the Ras Doumeira and Doumeira Island has left several dead and dozens wounded over the past three days, according to a statement read June 12 at the Security Council by Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad of the US, which holds the rotating Council presidency this month. “The Security Council calls upon the parties to commit to a ceasefire and urges both parties, in particular Eritrea, to show maximum restraint and withdraw forces to the status-quo ante,” the statement said.

The Arab League June 13 urged Eritrea to withdraw its forces from border areas near Djibouti “immediately” and to respect Djibouti’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Eritrea has rejected a fact-finding mission proposed by the League, which was to find ways to ease tension. (Djibouti is an Arab League member; Eritrea is not—see BBC Profile.)

Eritrea’s Foreign Ministry has issued a press release calling the massive condemnation of its military action “baseless and mendacious statements.” When accusations of an incursion surfaced last month, Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki told Reuters: “It’s a fabrication…We decline the invitation to go into another crisis in the region.”

Djibouti’s President Ismail Omar Guelleh told ADI that “If Eritrea wants war, it will get it.” (Afrol News, UN News Service, June 13; Reuters, June 12)

See our last posts on Eritrea, Djibouti, the Horn of Africa and France in Africa.

  1. I smell a rat.
    Don’t you find it curious, when Djibouti was screaming blue murder about being invaded, this was issued in the AFP.
    And Eritrea’s statement “It’s a fabrication…We decline the invitation to go into another crisis in the region.”

    “A military source said French forces based in Djibouti had carried out a reconnaissance on Thursday at the government’s request but had not been able to confirm an incursion.” spx?id=753588

    1. I smell a rat also…
      Only in Africa can a war be launched by a dictatorial regime like Eritrea and the only people in denial be the dictator’s own die-hard supporters. Only in Africa.

      Dead bodies have been shown, the AU, the Arab League, the UN, and many more are all calling for peace and a peaceful end to the conflict and that should be what everyone is doing at this time.

      Africa doesnt need anymore of this.
      Here is a good N.Y. times article from before the war began:

      1. The end does not Justify the means.
        In my books the end does not justify the means. What I was trying to point out was, this is a classic provocation tactic, to make your enemy react or concoct a story, in a way that justifies your own attack.
        You might not be familiar with American history, but have a look for the famous “Gulf of Tonkin” incident that was excuse to get involved in the disastrous Vietnam war.

        There is enough evidence some skuldugery has happened already.

  2. Condemnation without any evidence
    Eritrea said, “We decline the invitation to go into another crisis in the region.”

    Djibouti said, it´s being invaded from Eritrea but funny is that till yet, there is no independent confirmation of that claim.

    Isn’t it natural to hear on independent investigators before someone start to throw any stone on any country?

    I think the US administration with their puppets on the horn of Africa are trying to isolate a poor country that has shown much courage on the last decades than all African countries in a century.

    However, if someone knows what the Eritreans undergone because of the injustice imposed on them, he/she knows that these fabrication are nothing but bias.

  3. The frenzy has begun
    Eritreans have been wondering what tactics will be used this time by the US as a continuation of creating crises in the area and vilifying Eritrea. Little did we expect it would be our good friend and neighbor Djibouti in conjunction with a country we’ve never had any problems with before – France. Not even an attempt at camouflaging it this time, such is their contempt for the Rule of Law, morality, and all the good things our creator and forefathers taught us. WOW!

    1. It is time for the people of
      It is time for the people of eritrea whether they are at home and especially the ones living abroad to wake up to the fact that they have a suicidal mad dog running their country. When are these apologist going to step and tell it the way it is? I (djiboutian) had great hope for eritrea when they first declared independence. I thought here is a country that will be the rising star for a new africa. However, my hopes for the country disipated quickly. What has happened unfortunately is a country ruled by a bunch of illiterate bush men. They still think they are in the bush fighthing for liberation. Well wake up Eritrea!!! You have gained your independence – and what is the end result – NOTHING!!! President Issayes who calls himself a statesmen acts like a total lunatic and the crazy thing is the eritrean people (I would specifically like to point out that it is mostly the christian part of the eritrean people who follow him blindly) say/do nothing but spew garbage about how this is conspiracy. Wake up Eritrea for the sake of your country – this is a suicidal mission your are undertaking. Djibouti has no quarrels with anybody. The only thing we want is to develop our country and help our people out of poverty. If you want to be part of the solution you are welcome but if you want to become the neighbourhood bully, then be prepared for the consequences.

  4. Background to Djibouti crisis?
    From the above-referenced New York Times story by Jeffrey Gettleman of May 25—the only piece the Times has run on the crisis:

    The disputed zone includes a hill called Gabla, or Ras Doumeira, and a small island called Doumeira, deserted except for the occasional fishermen who use it as a pit stop. It is all sand out here — miles of it, trimming a Windex-colored sea. The wind regularly whips the grit into your face, and temperatures routinely soar past 110 degrees.

    Despite the fact that these two countries barely register on the map, it is the map itself that is part of the problem. Scholars say that the border area was never properly demarcated, and that the best guidance as to who owns what goes back to a vague communiqué between France and Italy more than 100 years ago. They were the colonial powers at the time, with France occupying what is now Djibouti and Italy controlling what is now Eritrea.

    According to John Donaldson, a research associate at the International Boundaries Research Unit, a British institute that studies border disputes, France and Italy agreed in 1901 that no third country could rule the Doumeira area, and that specific border issues would be dealt with later.

    “It’s very complicated,” he said. “But the question was basically left up in the air.”

    Djiboutian officials said the Eritreans made a play for this area in the mid-1990s, producing old documents and saying that the territory was theirs. But Djiboutian officials said that their trump card is an 1897 treaty between Ethiopia and France that clearly states that the Doumeira area was French.

    According to the Djiboutian government, the Eritreans asked in January if they could cross the border to get some sand to build a road. Instead, they occupied a hilltop and started digging trenches.

    “In one word, they cheated,” said Col. Ali Soubaneh Chirdon, who commands the Djiboutian soldiers lined up on the border.

    The move seemed to be part of Eritrea’s less-than-neighborly relations with just about all of its neighbors. In the 1990s, Eritrea clashed with Yemen over the Hanish Islands in the Red Sea; battled Sudan-backed rebels on its western frontier; and fought Ethiopia, the second most populous country in sub-Saharan Africa, over a little border town called Badme. That conflict killed 100,000 people and is still not resolved.

    Some diplomats fear that Doumeira could prove to be Eritrea’s undoing. By taking on Djibouti, Eritrea is also taking on France, which has a defense agreement with Djibouti, and the United States, which uses Djibouti as hub for its Africa operations and has already threatened to list Eritrea as a state sponsor of terrorism. Actually, many countries have an interest here because fighting at the narrow mouth of the Red Sea could threaten oil supplies from the Persian Gulf to much of the industrialized world.

    “This is a suicide mission for Eritrea,” said Mahmoud Ali Youssouf, Djibouti’s foreign minister, who said on Thursday that the Eritreans had given the Djiboutians an ultimatum to leave the border area.

    The International Boundaries Research Unit at Durham University has this to say (updated June 16):

    Fighting erupts along the disputed Djibouti-Eritrea boundary
    After two months of tension at the Djibouti and Eritrea border fighting erupted between their armed forces on Tuesday 10 June. The clashes occurred along the northern section of the boundary at Ras Doumeirah where a simmering boundary dispute has led both states to position troops within yards of one another.

    According to sources in Djibouti, the fighting broke out when Eritrean troops began to shoot deserting soldiers who attempted to flee towards Djibouti territory. Djiboutian soldiers respond to the firing and during the ensuing skirmishes at least 6 Djiboutian soldiers were killed and over 50 wounded. Arab and Western nations as well as the U.N. Security Council and the Arab League called on Eritrea to immediately withdraw its troops from the disputed areas and invited both sides to resolve their boundary claims through diplomatic means.

    Although the cross-border clashes had subsided by the following day, the risk that this diplomatic crisis could turn into a large scale conflict is still high.

  5. Eritrean Logic, Eritrean math…
    Eritrean anything is completely opposite what the rest of the world sees. For example they see Ethiopian history as their history. Ethiopian leaders as theirs(selectively). It makes sense they would see a region that was part of Ethiopia and which was leased to France in 1897 and subsequently granted its autonomy(by both countries) as, of course theirs. Thats Eritrean logic after all. The Hanish Islands were never theirs. They were Ethiopian. And the Ethio Yemen treaty stipulated that if Ethiopia ever gave up its rights to them that they would revert to Yemen. So on independence what does Eritrea, who should have first made sure its interests were protected by its big brother done. Proceeded clamly. This was a nation that had volunaritly allowed Eritrea to cesseed. It had transported a number of its industries, a portion of its arms and its budget for the region for the next 3 years. Ethiopia is not a rich country by any means. IT is probably second from the bottom. But these were their cousins and brothers if they wished to chart their own course after destroying Mengistu’s brutal dictatorship no one imposed anything on them. Heck when Eritrea chose to attack Yemen, Ethiopia bound by its mutual defense treaty came to this assistance with Helicopter gunships and fighter aircraft. What does Eritrea do even before the Yemeni crisis was over ? Turn its guns on Ethiopia. If this country and its rabid leader are not 3 million of the crazierst people on the planet no one is. Now they are in Djibouti. They are sending mercenaries to Somalia, arms to Yemen rebels and attacking Saudi Arabia. I say more power to them. All these countries were giving money and weapons to Issayas Afewerki and Mohammed Ziad Barre when they were killing Ethiopians.