Ethiopia: Dismal Djibouti Deadlock


February 4, 2009: Djibouti has let both France and the UN Security Council know that it prefers to use diplomatic and international legal means to resolve the border dispute with Eritrea. The phrase Djibouti is using, however, sends a message: it will "exhaust" all diplomatic and legal "solutions" and not be "lured" into war by Eritrea. That's a message, and one that Eritrea has to assume is backed up by France and likely the US. France has military forces in Djibouti and the US has a large counter-terrorism "joint task force" based in Djibouti. The UN Security Council has demanded that Eritrea withdraw from the Ras Doueira area in Djibouti and Doumeira Island.

February 3, 2009: Are Ethiopian troops back in Somalia? If they are, Ethiopia isn't saying. In fact, Ethiopia denies that there are any Ethiopian troops in Somalia. However, Somali locals report Ethiopian troops are operating a "check point" in central Somalia. Ethiopia is maintaining connections with two Somali separatist regions, Puntland, and Somaliland. Ethiopia also says that it continues to support the Somali government.

Maybe and maybe not: an Eritrean "resistance organization" claims it attacked and destroyed an Eritrean "administrative building" in Tekombia on January 27. The group calls itself the Democratic Movement for the Liberation fo Eritrean Kunama (DMLEK).

February 1, 2009: Why did Eritrea attack Djibouti in 2008? A "diplomatic theory" is circulating that Eritrea wanted to create a crisis that would involve the UN. Eritrea would then negotiate with Djibouti, the UN, France, and the US and try to use the Djibouti negotiations to gain "leverage" in its various disputes with Ethiopia -- particularly its border dispute with Ethiopia. Eritrea would pull out of Djibouti if the UN would force Ethiopia to give up disputed portions of the Ethiopia-Eritrea border than the border demarcation commission gave to Eritrea. Does it make sense? There could be something to it. Eritrea used the opportunity created by UN condemnation of its occupation of Djibouti territory to complain about its boundary dispute with Ethiopia. That's linking a short border war with an "information operation" which is part of a much larger war.

January 25, 2009: Ethiopia said that it had "completed the withdrawal" of its military forces from Somalia.

January 16, 2009: Eritrea rejected the UN Security Council's resolution which demands that Eritrea pull its forces out of Djibouti in five weeks (from January 14).

January 14, 2009: The UN Security Council unanimously passed a resolution demanding that Eritrea pull its military forces in Djibouti back to "pre-conflict positions." The resolution pointed out that Djibouti has already pulled its forces back. Eritrea has five weeks in which to comply. However, the resolution appears to have no teeth -- it did not say what consequences Eritrea would suffer if it ignores the demand.

January 13, 2009: Ethiopian military forces in Somalia withdrew from four major bases in the Mogadishu area. The government said that Ethiopian forces would be out of Somalia by the end of January.

January 10, 2009: Eritrea remains heavily dependent on its expatriate community for hard cash. "Remittances and private transfers" (from Eritreans outside Eritrea) provide around 30 percent of the country's annual GDP. A recent "working estimate" for Eritrea's GDP in 2004 is $700 million -- not that big, especially for a country chronically at war. Reliance on remittances leaves Eritrea vulnerable to a coordinated "financial squeeze" from international accounts. It could be a tool to put pressure on the Eritrean government. That said, there are lots of ways to get around remittance controls, and one way is dealing cash that is brought directly into the country.



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