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Eritrea under international pressures for military escalation with Djibouti

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June 12, 2008 (LONDON) — Eritrean government has come under international and regional pressures for its attack against the neighbouring Djibouti that have killed nine soldiers this week.

Tension between the Horn of Africa countries has been high since April 16 when Eritrean troops raided Ras Doumeira, which both sides claim, as it pursued deserters.

The neighbours fought for control of the area in 1996 and 1999 and have never held talks to resolve the dispute. Tuesday’s clashes were the first since April.

Today the UN Security condemned Eritrea’s military action against Djibouti in Ras Doumeira and Doumeira Island." The Council further urged the two parties to commit to a ceasefire asking Eritrea to withdraw its troops to the status quo ante.

In Cairo, the Arab League issued a tough statement calling Asmara to withdraw its troops from Ras Doumeira in respect of Djibouti sovereignty and territorial integrity. Eritrea had refused to receive an Arab fact finding committee on May 8.

However, Asmara didn’t yet give a response to an African Union mission to visit Eritrea. The AU had dispatched a team to Djibouti on June 5-9.

The AU Peace and Security Council urged today the two neighbours to show utmost restraint, resort to dialogue to resolve any bilateral dispute. In addition, it “strongly” condemned the use of force and stressed the imperative need to respect the sovereignty, territorial integrity and the independence of Member States.

This condemnations and pressures come despite the vain Eritrean denial of hostile intention towards Djibouti.

"As the Eritrean government has repeatedly asserted, although it is closely and patiently following up the developments and its sponsors, it hereby reiterates that it would under no circumstances get involved in an invitation of squabbles and acts of hostility designed to undermine good-neighborliness," the Eritrean foreign ministry said in a statement.

The Djibouti foreign ministry accused on Wednesday Eritrea of seeking to destabilize the Horn of Africa region by attacking Djibouti and vowed to use all available means to defend itself.

The clashes erupted on Tuesday afternoon after a face-off lasting nearly two months. Djibouti accuses Asmara of entering its territory to build defenses. Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki has denied any aggression.

Djibouti’s smaller army of 11,000 troops had begun to call up demobilized soldiers and retired policemen.

Eritrea has 200,000 soldiers, but many are on its border with neighbor Ethiopia with whom it fought a 1998-2000 war. Since then, tensions have remained high.

France has a mutual defense treaty with Djibouti after that nation’s independence in 1977. It is also an important route for landlocked Ethiopia, which has vowed to protect its access to Djibouti’s port.

The U.S., wgich condemned the Eritrean “aggression” has more than 1,200 troops stationed in Djibouti, where an anti-terrorism task force for the Horn of Africa is based.

Clashes on the Djibouti-Eritrea frontier broke out in the Ras Doumeira area, which straddles the Bab al-Mandib straits.

Experts say the only undecided area of the border is the tiny Ras Doumeira island, next to a village of the same name.

(ST)

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