Djibouti unhappy with Somalia over Eritrea sanctions

Thursday August 2 2018

Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed of Somalia (left) with his Eritrean counterpart Isaias Afeworki

Presidents Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed of Somalia (left) with his Eritrean counterpart Isaias Afeworki sign an agreement to establish diplomatic ties in Asmara on July 30, 2018. PHOTO | COURTESY ERITREA  

By ABDULKADIR KHALIF
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Djibouti is unhappy with Somalia’s calls for the lifting of the United Nations sanctions on Eritrea.

The Djiboutian embassy in Mogadishu said Wednesday that the country was “deeply shocked” by President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo’s calls for the removal of the sanctions.

The Somali leader had paid Asmara a historic three-day visit where the two Horn of Africa nations agreed to restore diplomatic relations after nearly 15 years.

Djibouti said the economic restrictions imposed on Eritrea in 2009 were due to Asmara’s refusal to withdraw troops from their disputed border and for its alleged support of Somalia-based Al Shabaab jihadist group.

“It is unacceptable to see the brotherly Somalia support Eritrea which is occupying part of our territory and still denying having Djiboutian prisoners,” a statement on Wednesday from the Djiboutian embassy read.

The country said it would not “tolerate ruthless talks while our young men and women are yet here defending Somalia’s peace and stability.”

Djibouti, alongside Uganda, Kenya, Burundi and Ethiopia have contributed soldiers who make up the 20,000-strong peacekeeping African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) to support Mogadishu’s fight against Al Shabaab.

Border dispute

In the wake of the thaw of relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea that ended two decades of hostility and restored diplomatic ties, Djibouti asked the UN Security Council for help to mediate its long-standing border dispute with Asmara.

“Eritrean forces continue to occupy Djiboutian territory, prisoners of war remain unaccounted for, threats of force continue to emanate from the Eritrean side and the risk of violent confrontation is once again high,” Djiboutian ambassador to the UN wrote in a letter to the Security Council last month.

Djibouti has taken issue with President Farmajo's apparent lack of concern in pushing for resolution of its border dispute with Eritrea as he sought to restore ties with Asmara.

"We take serious the historic less support of our Somali brothers who blindly supported Eritrea," the embassy said.

On Wednesday, media reports in Somalia indicated that the Djiboutian ambassador left the country. It was not, however, clear where to or why.

The border row is a product of a colonial times dispute between the French and the Italians which escalated in 2008 when clashes erupted between Eritrean and Djiboutian soldiers.

Djibouti accused Eritrea of occupying its territory -- the Dumeira mountain and Dumeira island.

Although the war lasted a few days, the dispute was temporarily solved by a Qatar-mediated deal in 2010, but Djibouti insists that Eritrea allegedly has not returned a number of its soldiers captured during the clashes.

Qatar withdrew its soldiers last year following the Gulf crisis, raising tensions between the neighbours.

Analysts say Djibouti’s opposition to the lifting of the sanctions could have been fuelled by its “losing” position in the flourishing Ethiopia-Eritrea ties.

“For decades, Djibouti was the undisputed winner of the Ethiopian-Eritrean hostility and the latter’s isolation,” said Kelsey Keller an associate director at the Atlantic Council’s Africa Centre in a review of the Ethiopia-Eritrea relations last month.

“As relations warm up, Djibouti’s advantages disappear. Djibouti — which has successfully exploited its prime position on the red sea to offer both port and military bases to foreign countries stands to lose.”

-Additional reporting by Victor Kiprop