The African Union (AU) on Saturday urged “restraint” as tensions intensified between Djibouti and Eritrea over a disputed border territory after the withdrawal of Qatari peacekeepers from a buffer zone.
Djibouti has accused Eritrea of occupying territory following the departure of the Qatari troops, threatening the revival of a long-standing, sometimes violent dispute.
AU Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat called for “calm and restraint” and said the body would send a “fact-finding mission to the Djibouti-Eritrea border.”
The Qatari pullout comes as the Gulf country is locked in a bitter dispute with Saudi Arabia and its allies over alleged ties to extremists, a charge it denies.
Both Djibouti and Eritrea have good relations with Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and have taken their side in the row.
Djibouti Foreign Minister Mahmoud Ali Youssouf on Thursday accused Eritrea of “moving its forces” into the Doumeira region where Qatari peacekeepers had been stationed since 2010 as a buffer between the two nations’ armies.
“Djibouti is a peaceful country and we have prioritized diplomatic solutions, but if Eritrea insists on seeking military solutions, Djibouti is ready for that,” Youssouf said in a press conference broadcast on local television.
Eritrea has not yet responded to the allegations.
Djibouti is a strategic ally of world powers, hosting French and US military bases with a Chinese one under construction.
Djibouti’s large port is also a conduit for imports to and exports from Ethiopia, Eritrea’s bitter enemy.
The AU said it was “ready to assist Djibouti and Eritrea to normalize their relations and promote good neighborliness within the framework of relevant AU instruments.”
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the world body has received written communications from Djibouti and Eritrea “and we’re taking a look at it.” He did not disclose the contents but called the incident “an example of the spill-over effect” from the Gulf dispute.
Eritrea’s top diplomat at the AU said the country wants to solve the problem with Djibouti peacefully.
A spokesman for Eritrea’s biggest armed opposition group, Nasredin Ali, said Eritrea sent two battalions to control the contested area. “They have met no resistance from Djibouti’s forces.”
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