6000th Meeting (AM)
Eritrea 's Representative Vows Openness to Solve Any 'Real or Perceived Problems', But Says Country Will Not Be Dragged into 'Fabricated Conflict'
Speakers in the Security Council this morning called for the peaceful settlement of the border dispute between Eritrea and Djibouti, after they heard the President of Djibouti and the representative of Eritrea present their respective views on the crisis, which flared into deadly fighting this past 10 June.
As the Council began its 6000th meeting today, President Ismail Omar Guelleh, whose country requested the session, invited the Council to call on Eritrea to meet its international obligations, following the "sudden, inexplicable and ill-thought out occupation" of parts of his country and the subsequent condemnation by the 15-member body. He maintained that conclusions of the Council's fact-finding mission to Djibouti had clearly shown the irresponsible behaviour of the Eritrean authorities, which had refused to cooperate with the United Nations.
Djibouti's priority, he said, was demilitarization of the area and the re-establishment of mutual trust by reactivating existing bilateral mechanisms or by creating an arbitration mechanism to demarcate the border. He argued that Djibouti had reacted with calm that created space to solve the problem peacefully, but that all efforts in that regard had been in vain, as Eritrea merely continued to reinforce its troops and had refused to negotiate.
There was now no other choice but to mass troops at the border and defend the territory, he said. The good offices of the African Union, the Organization of the Islamic Conference and of the United Nations were being sought to resolve the dispute. His country was determined to recover the entirety of its territory, including Ras Doumeira and Doumeira Island. Djibouti's forces had been withdrawn to their earlier positions in response to the Council's presidential statement.
"The last thing the Horn of Africa needs is another conflict," he said, adding that the Eritrean people did not want another conflict with Djibouti and were aware of that country's friendship. He urged the Council to call on the two countries to devote themselves for a period of three weeks to solve the crisis. Any failure to apply that decision should give rise to sanctions by the Council.
Eritrea's representative said that his country had already addressed Djibouti's "unwarranted statements without any concrete evidence" at the Council's meeting on the same issue in June. There were no new developments since the brief incident that month that had been instigated by the unprovoked attack unleashed by Djibouti against Eritrean units inside its own territory.
He went on to say that, despite the "negative campaigns", Eritrea had exercised restraint and had not taken any land that belonged to Djibouti. Conceding that it did not concern the issue at hand, he then described Ethiopian military construction along its border and reminded the Council that Ethiopia continued to occupy sovereign Eritrean territories in violation of the United Nations Charter and the Algiers Peace Agreement.
As far as "this manufactured problem with Djibouti was concerned", he said Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki had already called President Guelleh about the issue, when Eritrea was approached by the Emir of Qatar, and showed openness to solve any real or perceived problem. His country's desire remained the restoration of good neighbourly relations with Djibouti on the basis of each other's full respect of territorial integrity and sovereignty. "However, Eritrea will not allow itself to be dragged into and invited to engage in a diversionary and fabricated conflict," he said.
Following the presentations of the two countries, representatives of all Council delegations took the floor to urge dialogue leading to peaceful adjudication of the border issue. Most speakers supported further efforts at mediation through the African Union and the Arab League, which had attempted to facilitate that dialogue, along with the use of the Secretary-General's good offices. Some called on both parties equally to exercise utmost restraint and to cooperate with such mediation efforts. Others, however, addressed Eritrea more forcefully, urging it to withdraw its forces, cooperate with the United Nations and regional organizations and comply with the 12 June presidential statement.
France's representative said that Eritrean authorities must recognize that there was a crisis in Doumeira, and he hoped the country would finally resume dialogue with the international community. The situation presented a serious threat to Djibouti and the region as a whole, and France intended to comply with all obligations that linked it to Djibouti.
He proposed urgent consultations to draft a Council text that would, among other things, reiterate its demands that Eritrea withdraw its forces to previous positions and to encourage the efforts of the African Union Presidency and the Secretary-General of the United Nations. Those demands should be accompanied by a clear timeline, he said.
The representatives of Burkina Faso, Belgium, Italy, United Kingdom, Indonesia, Russian Federation, South Africa, Croatia, Costa Rica, Viet Nam, Libya, Panama, United States and China also spoke.
The meeting, which opened at 10:05 a.m., closed at 11:30 a.m.
The Security Council met this morning to hear Ismail Omar Guelleh, President of Djibouti, in connection with the Djibouti-Eritrea question, as requested in a note verbale dated 3 October from the Permanent Mission of Djibouti to the United Nations addressed to the Council's President (document S/2008/635).
Between 10 and 12 June, serious clashes were reported between the Djibouti Armed Forces (DAF) and the Eritrean Defence Forces (EDF) along the unmarked border between the two countries in an area called Doumeira. The fighting, which left over 35 dead and dozens wounded, sparked some internal displacement in Djibouti.
On 12 June, the Security Council issued a presidential statement (S/PRST/2008/20) expressing its strong concern about incidents along the frontier between Djibouti and Eritrea, calling on both parties to commit to a ceasefire and urging Eritrea to withdraw its forces from the area. (See Press Release SC/9353.)
In that same statement, the Council urged Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to use his good offices and reach out to both sides. Subsequently, the Secretary-General directed the Department of Political Affairs to dispatch a fact-finding mission to the two countries to assess the political, security and humanitarian situation in the area. Eritrean authorities, however, refused to issue visas to the United Nations team. The mission also visited Ethiopia, as that country shared a common border with both countries and is currently Chair of the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD).
The Council had before it a letter dated 11 September from the Secretary-General to its President conveying the report of the United Nations fact-finding mission on the Djibouti-Eritrea crisis (document S/2008/602). The mission visited Addis Ababa from 28 to 31 July and from 4 to 6 August. It visited Djibouti from 1 to 4 August. It describes the history of the Djibouti-Eritrea border and implications for the status of Doumeira, and noted that the fact-finding team was able to establish that there were major divergences of opinion between the two countries about the border.
The exact position of the land boundary in Ras Doumeira is critical for establishing whether Eritrea has actually occupied Djibouti territory since March, as claimed by Djibouti authorities. The position of the borderline would also be critical if the two States were to negotiate their maritime boundary on the Red Sea. In 1996, Eritrea made an attempt to seize control of Ras Doumeira. The ensuing dispute was short-lived and was resolved through bilateral mechanisms, but the question of the borderline remained unresolved, the report says.
Among its conclusions, the mission underscores the need for "urgent political action to end the crisis between Djibouti and Eritrea". It recommends that the offer of the Secretary-General's good offices to defuse the tension between the two countries be made an "urgent priority". Both countries must be made to believe that it is in their vested interest to have a balanced fact-finding mission, which would reach conclusions only after hearing from both sides.
It goes on to note that, if Eritrea alleges an invasion by Ethiopia or aggression by Djibouti, as it has done, then it has an international obligation to cooperate with the United Nations to establish the facts. The Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs could return to Asmara in the coming weeks. The grace period for the Eritreans, however, must not be open-ended. They should be given a specific time frame to issue the necessary visas. The current situation should not be allowed to fester.
A major priority for the United Nations and all international actors should be to persuade the two parties, Eritrea in particular, to demilitarize the border and return to previous positions as at February 2008. The Djibouti army has pulled back, the report states, and adds that it is only logical that the Eritrean forces do the same, as was demanded by the Council. As there was disagreement over the treatment of EDF deserters who crossed into Djibouti between April and June, the future of the deserters could serve as a confidence-building measure.
At the same time, the report notes that the existence of several colonial treaties and protocols, as well as at least three different maps and borderlines, all indicate that the border could be under contention. United Nations efforts at resolving the crisis should focus on providing the two countries with a platform to discuss their common border and agree on a fair process for demarcation. The Department of Political Affairs seems best placed to facilitate dialogue between the two countries on demilitarizing the border and initiating a political process, which should preferably take place under the leadership of a special envoy.
Finally, the report states that, hopefully, the authorities in Eritrea will respond positively and in a timely manner to the offer of the Secretary-General's good offices. In the event that the offer by the United Nations is again rebuffed by Eritrea, the matter should be referred to the Council for appropriate action. "A sovereign country is being drawn into a crippling and unaffordable military mobilization, to deal with a situation that may ultimately threaten national, regional and international peace," the report states, concluding that there is still some scope for further political engagements, especially with Eritrea.
ISMAIL OMAR GUELLEH, President of Djibouti, said Africa was at a crossroads. A number of countries were making progress against all forecasts, thanks to better economic management and growing confidence of international investors. There was unequalled economic growth and the current crisis might have minimal effects. However, high fuel and food prices made the situation more complex. Djibouti was a small, peace-loving and progressive country that had been able to maintain its stability even amid wars in the region.
The Horn of Africa had had more than its fair share of unhappiness, dislocation and destruction. The Council might take an in-depth look at the areas of tension at a regional level, as it had done in West Africa. Here, he said Somalia, in particular, was in ruins. The conflict there was not exclusively a Somali affair, and required international and transparent involvement to determine once and for all the future of the nation.
Further, international attention to the piracy in Somalia was legitimate, but everyone should be aware that piracy was a symptom. Half of the population needed humanitarian aid and suffered from displacement, drought and unemployment. The East African region was committed to re-establishment of peace in Somalia and officials from neighbouring countries were set to meet in Nairobi to address the forgotten crisis. At the same time, the Security Council had the primary responsibility to save Somalia from "its decent into nightmare" and to take the decision that it was time to protect the people. Lack of action would have serious consequences.
After the "sudden, inexplicable and ill-thought out occupation" of parts of his country by Eritrea, Djibouti had reacted with calm that created time to solve the problem peacefully, he said. All efforts in that regard had been in vain, however, as Eritrean actions continued on the ground. There was now no other choice than to mass troops at the border and defend the territory. The good offices of the African Union, the Organization of the Islamic Conference and of the United Nations were being sought.
Eritrea continued to reinforce its troops, which carried out incursions. The international efforts had been rejected by Eritrea and that country continued to provide incorrect and "arrogant" information. Following the 10 June armed conflict which had left dozens of victims, the Council had condemned the Eritrean actions, he said. The Council had sent a fact-finding mission to Djibouti, whose clear conclusions reflected the erratic and irresponsible behaviour of the Eritrean authorities. The Eritrea authorities had simply alleged interference from abroad.
He said the high point of the mission had been a visit to Doumeira, where it could see the deployment of the two forces. Given that Eritrea continued to reject efforts to diffuse the tension, it was becoming clear that Eritrea did not want to abide by international standards and obligations. Confronted with a silent aggressor, discussion could not find place. His country was determined to recover the entirety of its territory, including Ras Doumeira and Doumeira Island. Djibouti's forces had been withdrawn to the status quo ante in response to the Council's presidential statement.
He said the inexplicable invasion of Djibouti's territory was totally unacceptable and the Council must address the conflict in an appropriate manner. Eritrea continued to ignore appeals by regional bodies and the Council and the conflict could have a broad effect on the region. "The last thing the Horn of Africa needs is another conflict," he said, adding further that the Eritrean people did not want another conflict with Djibouti and were aware of that country's friendship.
The Eritrean people, however, suffered under bad governance and the "belligerent attitude" of their leaders. "It is morally reprehensible." He asked the Council to be very vigilant. Correlation should be established between the current conflict and the one between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Those conflicts shared the same element -- namely Eritrea -- a country that was involved in all conflicts in the Horn of Africa.
He invited the Council to consider that Eritrea, as a Member State, must be called upon to meet its international obligations and cooperate with the United Nations and accept its good offices. His country's priority was demilitarization of the area. The two countries must re-establish mutual trust by reactivating existing bilateral mechanisms or by an arbitration mechanism to demarcate the border.
He urged the Council to call upon the two countries to devote themselves for a period of three weeks to solve the crisis. Any failure to apply the decision should give rise to sanctions by the Council. Continued inaction not only would encourage, but also would benefit Eritrea's attitude, which left no other option than war. The conflict constituted a financial "black hole", as well as a detraction from his country's development goals.
ARAYA DESTA ( Eritrea) said that the series of hostile campaigns waged against his country and the "unwarranted statements without any concrete evidence" had already been addressed at the Council in June. There were no new developments since the brief incident that month that had been instigated by the unprovoked attack unleashed by Djibouti against Eritrean units inside its own territory. The deliberate design to unleash a new crisis in the region had fortunately been forestalled.
He went on to say that, despite the "negative campaigns", Eritrea had, all along, chosen the path of restraint and, contrary to the claims made, had not taken any land that belonged to Djibouti and did not have any territorial ambitions. Conceding that it did not concern the issue at hand, he then described Ethiopian military construction along its border and reminded the Council that Ethiopia continued to occupy sovereign Eritrean territories in violation of the United Nations Charter and the Algiers Peace Agreement.
As far as "this manufactured" problem with Djibouti was concerned, he said it must be recalled that the two leaders had spoken about the issue when President Isaias took the initiative to call President Guelleh when Eritrea was approached by the Emir of Qatar, to which Eritrea showed its openness to solve any real or perceived problem. His country's desire remained the restoration of good neighbourly relations with Djibouti on the basis of each other's full respect of territorial integrity and sovereignty. "However, Eritrea will not allow itself to be dragged into and invited to engage in a diversionary and fabricated conflict," he said.
JEAN-MAURICE RIPERT ( France) said the conflict had entered into a less tense phase, but the situation was calm. There had been no more fighting and the armed forces were not in direct contact. That was the result of Djibouti's actions alone as it had drawn back to the status qua ante. The Council should not lose sight that the deadly clashes Eritrea was guilty of continued. Eritrea had been condemned in a presidential statement and the report of the fact-finding mission had established that Eritrea had not withdrawn its troops to the status quo ante.
A resolution required that both countries address the issue of border demarcation, which was a complex issue, as the borders had never been marked. A solution would require dialogue between parties, but Eritrea had rejected all dialogue and had not provided visas to the fact-finding mission. Eritrea, moreover, had refused similar missions of the Arab League and the African Union and had not responded positively to the offers of the Secretary-General's good offices.
He said that Eritrean authorities must recognize that there was a crisis in Doumeira, and he hoped the country would finally resume dialogue with the international community. He encouraged the African Union to establish a line of communication. He also hoped the Secretary-General could formalize his offer of good offices. The situation presented a serious threat to Djibouti and the region as a whole, and France intended to comply with all obligations that linked it to Djibouti.
The region, already wracked with strife, had experienced its full share of conflict. He proposed urgent consultations to draft a Council text that would, among other things, reiterate its demands that Eritrea withdraw its forces to previous positions and to encourage the efforts of the African Union Presidency and the Secretary-General of the United Nations. Those demands should be accompanied by a clear timeline.
MICHEL KAFANDO (Burkina Faso), noting that this was the second time that Djibouti appeared before the Council at a high level, showing the extent to which the Government put its trust in the United Nations. The Horn of Africa was wracked by too many conflicts and other challenges to suffer yet another one. He deplored the continuing tension between the two brotherly countries. The Council had already shown its resolve to remain involved, including through sending a fact-finding mission. Unfortunately, that mission had been rejected by one of the parties. The Council also had sent a clear message in its presidential statement, he added.
It was clearly incumbent upon the Council to reaffirm to the international community the guiding principles that could help restore normalcy in the region: withdrawal of forces to original positions, demilitarization of the disputed area and commitment of both parties to refrain from the use of force and the commitment of both States to meet in negotiations. If one of the parties should refuse dialogue, the States could go to arbitration or mediation, he concluded.
JAN GRAULS (Belgium), welcoming the moderation and restraint exercised by Djibouti, said that he shared the concerns over Eritrea's refusal to negotiate either with Djibouti or with United Nations, African Union or Arab League mediation. Claiming it had been wronged in its other border crisis with Ethiopia, Eritrea had, in that case too, decided on the path of isolation. Eritrea was, however, a Member of the United Nations and must respect its Charter obligations, he stressed, underlining that the peaceful resolution of conflicts and the non-use of force was at the centre of the Organization.
The situation with Djibouti should not be confused with the one that involved Ethiopia and Eritrea, he said. In the matter under discussion today, the Council should act to get Eritrea involved in dialogue leading to a settlement. Four months had already passed since the Council's presidential statement and the 15-nation body must now do everything it could to lessen tensions and to achieve normalization between the two countries.
GIULIO TERZI ( Italy) welcomed the restraint exercised by Djibouti as well as its cooperation with the Council. However, he expressed regret that Eritrea had refused to cooperate and continued to obstruct the efforts of the international community to put in place confidence-building measures. If that situation persisted, the Council would be forced to take action. He welcomed the proposals to that effect made by France's representative. He urged Eritrea to enter into negotiations with Djibouti to resolve their differences peacefully.
JOHN SAWERS ( United Kingdom) said he understood Djibouti's concerns and commended that country for its constructive response. He looked to Eritrea to take an equally cooperative approach. It was regrettable that Eritrea had rejected the mission sent under the auspices of the good offices of the Secretary-General. Should Eritrea continue to block efforts at dialogue, the Council must consider what steps it might take to break the impasse. The visit by the African Union Chairman to the region was a positive step. He urged Djibouti and Eritrea to enter into dialogue, and the Secretary-General to continue with his good offices efforts. He encouraged others in the region to offer their help in resolving the dispute.
MARTY M. NATALEGAWA ( Indonesia) said the situation between Djibouti and Eritrea was a cause of deep concern, and must be resolved peacefully and as early as possible. He regretted that the fact-finding mission that visited Djibouti had been unable to go to Eritrea, thus depriving the Council of an opportunity to hear the views of one key party. Efforts by the African Union and the League of Arab States, among others, to help bridge differences should be commended.
The Council's consideration of the issue should both address the tension itself and support the resolution of underlying causes, including the border problem, he continued. Notwithstanding the parties' intentions, the situation could develop in an unanticipated direction, and "take on a logic of its own" towards wider conflagration. As such, he welcomed the withdrawal of Djibouti's forces to their original positions, and Eritrea must do the same. Both sides should begin diplomatic and judicial approaches to settle the dispute and, in that regard, he supported efforts by the United Nations and regional organizations.
Resolution of the crisis could not be based on the current situation, and he urged both countries to determine and demarcate their border as early as possible. Both sides should see it as in their vital interest to resolve the border problem peacefully. Recognizing the link between the tension of the two countries, and broader security in the Horn of Africa, he also was mindful that any deterioration of the situation might impact international navigation in the strategic Bab-el-Mandeb Strait.
KONSTANTIN DOLGOV ( Russian Federation) called on both sides to undertake a commitment to maintain the ceasefire in their mutual border area. He called on Eritrea to immediately recall its forces and on both sides to take diplomatic steps to resolve the issue peacefully in a manner consistent with the United Nations Charter. He hoped that the Secretary-General's good offices would be coordinated with regional efforts to develop mutual trust, and hoped Eritrea would agree with a good offices mission. He affirmed his readiness to closely follow the situation, along with other member States of the Council, so that it did not further destabilize the region.
DUMISANI KUMALO ( South Africa) said that the presence of Djibouti's President in the Council indicated that the country felt the situation was very serious. South Africa wished to see the tension along the border area reduced by a withdrawal of military forces. He regretted that the fact-finding mission was not able to visit Asmara, because Eritrea needed to tell its side of the story. Mutual trust must be developed between the two countries through dialogue and other means, and the relationship as friendly neighbours must be re-established, making use of the offers of regional organizations to help. Finally, he paid tribute to the part that Djibouti had played in trying to find a solution to the crisis in Somalia.
RONKA VILOVIC ( Croatia) said that, despite the fact that there was now a relative calm, there was potential that the conflict could flare up again. The Council's 12 June presidential statement had called on all parties, in particular on Eritrea, to exercise restraint. The proposal to send a fact-finding mission was a step in the right direction, but Eritrea's refusal to accept the Organization's good offices was regrettable. He hoped that efforts aimed at helping the parties to deescalate the situation would be accepted by all parties.
JORGE URBINA ( Costa Rica) expressed concern at the lack of willingness by Eritrea to establish a dialogue with Djibouti, despite calls to that end by the international community. While recognizing the actions taken by Djibouti, he said Eritrea's position constituted a disregard of its obligations and a lack of respect for international law and the provisions of the Council. Respect for Council decisions was not just an obligation for countries that felt the contents were in line with their national intentions. The international community deserved the peace of mind that countries participating responsibly in the Organization were seriously attempting to build a better world, he said.
He reiterated his call on both parties to solve their differences through dialogue and to adhere to international law. The Council should play an important role in solving the situation. The parties should settle their differences through arbitration or mediation or take recourse to higher legal institutions.
LE LUONG MINH ( Viet Nam) said that the dispute, if left unchecked, could spill over into a regional conflict. He called for maximum restraint and the withdrawal of Eritrean forces to their original positions, and for both sides to enter into dialogue on the situation. He commended the efforts of the Arab League and the African Union, and encouraged the Secretary-General to utilize his good offices to assist the two parties to begin dialogue.
ATTIA OMAR MUBARAK ( Libya) said his country was extremely concerned by the conflict that had broken out between two brother nations, particularly since it occurred in a region that was experiencing so many other troubles. It was disappointing that the Council had not been able to come up with solutions to the region's troubles. Though there was currently calm, it was of great concern that there had not been progress. Libya, as a member of the African Union and the Arab League, called for implementation of resolutions issued by those organizations, as well as the Organization of the Islamic Conference. It also called for the use of legal means to resolve the issue once and for all. He encouraged the use of the Secretary-General's good offices and hoped that both parties would respond positively to those offices.
ALFREDO SUESCUM ( Panama) expressed the hope that Eritrea would begin interacting more positively with the international community, saying that there could then be a peaceful resolution to the conflict. He urged Eritrea to respond positively to the offers of the good offices of the Secretary-General and of the African Union. He also asked Eritrea to fulfil its obligations under international law, to withdraw its troops to previous positions and to respond positively to mediators.
He said the Council could only act on the basis of facts placed before it by the parties. If one party did not cooperate, the Council would have no other choice but to defend the territorial integrity of Djibouti, as that country, the threatened party, was fulfilling its obligations under the Charter.