Sunday, June 29, 2008

At UN, Djibouti Admits French Copter Flights, Blames Eritrea for Shoot-outs, Distributes Photos

Inner City Press, NY

At UN, Djibouti Admits French Copter Flights, Blames Eritrea for Shoot-outs, Distributes Photos

June 24, 2008

Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, June 24 — The standoff between Djibouti and Eritrea was explained, at least by Djibouti, on Tuesday. Foreign Minister Mahamoud Ali Youssouf said Eritrea’s motive is to gain control of a military position and associated waterway at Doumeira. While advancing on the position, according to Youssouf, scores of Eritrean soldiers deserted. That, he said, was when the shooting started on June 10, implying that Eritrea fired at its own defecting troops. Djibouti responded, and soon there were deaths and captured soldiers on both sides.

Inner City Press asked Minister Youssouf about Eritrea’s claim that French helicopters landed on or near its territory, and that an Eritrean speedboat was recently sunk, allegedly by non-Djiboutian forces. To his credit, Youssouf did not dodge these questions. Video here. He acknowledged that a French helicopter had carried him, his President and Prime Minister Dileita Mohamed Dileita to the disputed area, so they could see for themselves. He agreed that an Eritrean speedboat was recently sunk, but said that Djibouti itself has been responsible. He said that a Velo-bound, hundred-some page pamphlet prepared for submission to the Security Council on Tuesday afternoon contained proof and even photos of all this.

Inner City Press obtained a copy of the pamphlet, which strangely is dated February 2008, before the conflict at issue. The timeline inside, however, contains Djibouti’s version of events, sometimes by the hour. On June 10 at 12:30, “the Eritrean troops opened fire to stop (”empecher”) their soldiers from deserting,” the Djiboutian presentation says. At 6:40 p.m., “the hour of prayer,” the Eritreans again opened fire, the pamphlet continues.

What is Eritrea’s side of the story? It appears that Eritrea will not make a presentation to the Council on Tuesday afternoon. To the President of Yemen, Ali Abdallah Salih, Eritrea has called the conflict a “fabrication,” and has blamed it on the United States. There are reports that the U.S. plans a second base in Djibouti, closer to Eritrean territory.

Inner City Press asked Minister Youssouf how much of the conflict may spring from Djibouti having hosted Somali talks between the Transitional Federal Government and portions of the Alliance to Re-liberate Somalia which have since left Asmara. Youssouf acknowledged some connection or effect, speculating that Eritrea is against peace in Somalia because it wants Ethiopian troops to have to remain there. Since Eritrea has not held a UN press conference, we must look elsewhere their views. According to reports, they have said there’d be peace if Djibouti “takes its hands off the affairs of the Somali opposition, and if the U.S. pressures Ethiopia to vacate Eritrean territories based on the ruling of the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission.”

Djibouti is putting the matter before the Security Council, supported by France and the U.S.. Who speaks for Eritrea in this process is not clear.

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