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Viewing cable 08DJIBOUTI380, DJIBOUTI FM REPORTS TALKS UNDERWAY WITH ERITREA TO

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08DJIBOUTI380 2008-04-20 17:05 2010-12-08 16:04 SECRET Embassy Djibouti
VZCZCXRO2806
PP RUEHDE RUEHROV RUEHTRO
DE RUEHDJ #0380/01 1111711
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
P 201711Z APR 08
FM AMEMBASSY DJIBOUTI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9169
INFO RUCNIAD/IGAD COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUCNSOM/SOMALIA COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHAE/AMEMBASSY ASMARA PRIORITY 2282
RHMFISS/CJTF HOA  PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEKDIA/DIA WASHDC PRIORITY
Sunday, 20 April 2008, 17:11
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 02 DJIBOUTI 000380 
SIPDIS 
SIPDIS 
DEPARTMENT FOR AF, AF/E, AND INR/AA 
CJTF-HOA FOR POLAD 
LONDON, PARIS, ROME FOR AFRICA-WATCHER 
EO 12958 DECL: 04/20/2032 
TAGS PREL, MOPS, PBTS, DJ, ER, ET 
SUBJECT: DJIBOUTI FM REPORTS TALKS UNDERWAY WITH ERITREA TO 
DEFUSE BORDER INCIDENT
REF: A. DJIBOUTI 378  B. DJIBOUTI 377
Classified By: ERIC WONG, CHARGE D’AFFAIRES, A.I.
1. (S) SUMMARY. On April 20, senior Djiboutian officials--including Djibouti’s defense minister, intelligence chief, and deputy CHOD--were involved in talks with Eritrean military officials in an attempt to defuse tensions arising from Eritrea’s establishment of a military outpost on disputed territory at Ras Doumeira, along the Bab al Mandab strait. According to Djibouti’s foreign minister, the GODJ sought to use “quiet diplomacy” to press Eritrea, although it believed that Eritrean President Isaias was unpredictable, as evidenced by Eritrea’s 1994 attack on a Djiboutian outpost at the same area. Foreign Minister Youssouf reports that Isaias opposes Djiboutian efforts to broker discussions between Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia (ARS), and that Isaias also suspects that routine U.S. military exercises in Djibouti are aimed at gathering intelligence for Ethiopia. Youssouf said Djibouti would welcome participating in the International Contact Group on Somalia, and planned to meet with visiting UN SRSG for Somalia Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah later in the week. END SUMMARY.
2. (S) On April 20, Charge and GRPO met with Djiboutian Foreign Minister Mahmoud Ali Youssouf to discuss the GODJ’s April 17 complaint that Eritrea had established a military outpost on Djiboutian territory at Doumeira (ref A). Charge and GRPO were accompanied by two representatives of the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA): Embassy Djibouti Country Coordination Element (CCE) CDR James Dickie, and CJTF-HOA Director of Intelligence (CJ-2) CAPT Kevin Frank.
--------------------------------------------- ------- 
FRENCH IMAGERY SHOWS STRUCTURE ON DISPUTED TERRITORY
--------------------------------------------- ------- 
3. (S) FM Youssouf presented low-resolution color photographs of Ras Doumeira dated the afternoon of April 17, which he said had been provided by French authorities. The photos show a manned structure and several trucks at the base of a mountain; according to FM Youssouf, the structure is an Eritrean military post constructed recently on “no man’s land” along the easternmost portion of the border between Djibouti and Eritrea, along the Bab al Mandab strait.
4. (S) While Eritrean forces had “pulled back” on the evening of April 19, FM Youssouf expressed concern that an estimated 3,000 Eritrean troops were along the Eritrean border with Djibouti, concentrated along three axes: from Eritrea to the Djiboutian border towns of Daddato, Sidiha Menguela, and Bissidourou. In addition to the post at Ras Doumeira, Eritrean forces had also recently built a coastal road from the port of Assab to Doumeira, and had begun to reclaim the waterfront, in an apparent attempt to construct some sort of port facility, he said.
----------------------------------- 
MIL-MIL TALKS UNDERWAY WITH ERITREA
----------------------------------- 
5. (S) In response to this “belligerent act,” Youssouf said the GODJ had strengthened its military presence at its base at Moulhoule (15 km south of Doumeira). In addition, the GODJ had dispatched a delegation on the morning of April 20 to Moulhoule, in order to discuss the incursion with Eritrean officials. According to FM Youssouf, GODJ representatives included Deputy Chief of the Djiboutian Armed Forces Brigadier General Zakaria Cheick Ibrahim, National Security Service (NSS) Director Hassan Said Khaireh, and Defense Minister Ogoureh Kiffleh Ahmed. FM Youssouf said he had also been in direct contact personally with the Eritrean Navy Commander, Major General Karikare Ahmed Mohammed, whom he believed had some influence on Eritrean President Isaias. FM Youssouf also planned to engage the secretary-general of Eritrea’s foreign ministry, who was expected to transit Djibouti airport (from Dubai) on the evening of April 20.
6. (S) To satisfy the GODJ’s concerns, Eritrean forces needed to withdraw at least 1 km away from the demarcated border at
DJIBOUTI 00000380 002 OF 002
Mt. Doumeira, Youssouf said; adding that international law required pulling back to 5 km from the border.
7. (S) FM Youssouf noted that the GODJ sought to utilize “quiet diplomacy” to defuse the situation, and had not yet issued any public statements on the recent Eritrean incursion. However, he noted that the 1994 incident, which had involved an exchange of gunfire between Eritrean and Djiboutian forces at Ras Doumeira, reached a denouement only when Djibouti protested to the United Nations, the Arab League, and the African Union. Djibouti subsequently demarcated the border, while Eritrea issued a map with altered boundaries for propaganda purposes.
--------------------------------------------- ---------- 
ISAIAS “A LUNATIC”; SUSPICIOUS OF ETHIOPIA AND THE U.S.
--------------------------------------------- ---------- 
8. (S) The Eritrean government (GSE) was “very unpredictable,” Youssouf said. He underscored that Eritrean troops had previously attacked a Djiboutian outpost at Ras Doumeira in 1994, at the same time that the Eritrean foreign minister was visiting the capital of Djibouti. Thus, according to Youssouf, Isaias had blindsided his own foreign minister. “This man is a lunatic,” opined Youssouf, adding, “you can’t pick your neighbors.” Youssouf noted the scarcity of food and consumer goods in Eritrea, caused by its “monopolistic, communist” state. As “waves of refugees” already crossed Djibouti’s porous borders from Somalia, Djibouti could ill afford additional refugees from conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea.
9. (S) Youssouf said President Isaias had complained, at the last EU-Africa summit in Lisbon, that there was “no terrorism in Djibouti.” Isaias was deeply suspicious of Djiboutian cooperation with the United States, claiming even to have information on USG renditions involving Djibouti, Youssouf said. More recently, GSE officials had expressed concern about both U.S. military exercises in Djibouti and also alleged Ethiopian plans to attack Assab from Bure and to definitively remove Isaias from power. The GSE had asserted that recent U.S. military exercises in northern Djibouti (ref A) were not intended to combat terror, but rather were intended to collect information for Ethiopia, Youssouf said. Youssouf highlighted that the GODJ was “happy” with the U.S. presence in Djibouti, and would continue to support the United States.
--------------------------------------------- ------- 
ERITREA OPPOSED TO DJIBOUTIAN-BROKERED SOMALIA TALKS
--------------------------------------------- ------- 
10. (S) Recent business talks relating to the possible construction of a massive bridge linking Yemen to Djibouti had heightened GSE interest in Doumeira. The GSE opposed Djibouti’s ongoing efforts to broker discussions between Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia (ARS) (ref B), Youssouf said, as the GSE sought to keep Ethiopia preoccupied in Somalia, and thus to fracture the Ethiopian military into 3-4 fronts. Youssouf said Djibouti would welcome participating in the International Contact Group on Somalia, and planned to meet with visiting UN SRSG for Somalia Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah later in the week.
11. (S) COMMENT. FM Youssouf noted that no public statements from the USG were needed yet, as Djibouti sought to press Eritrea through “quiet diplomacy.” Should these talks fail, however, the international community will have to weigh what actions, if any, would be effective in reversing the Eritrean incursion. The recent withdrawal of UN peacekeeping forces from the Temporary Security Zone, following more than two years of increasing restrictions on the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE), highlight the GSE’s intransigence in the face of international pressure. END COMMENT. WONG