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05DJIBOUTI193 2005-02-27 12:03:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Djibouti
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					C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 DJIBOUTI 000193 



E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/24/2015

Classified By: Ambassador Marguerita D. Ragsdale.
For reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1. (U) Summary: Ambassador met 23 February with Acting
Foreign Minister, Mahamoud Ali Youssouf, at her request, to
discuss several issues, including the Ethiopia/Eritrea border
issue, Djibouti's relationship with France, the recent visit
of President Guelleh to Qatar, and Millennium Challenge
Account eligibility (see septels). On Ethiopia/Eritrea,
Youssouf said Djibouti finds the reported troop build-up on
both sides worrying and is asking its neighbors to not
escalate the situation. Youssouf said Djibouti will stick to
its policy of neutrality and ultimately it is up to the two
sides to realize the best course of action. End Summary.

2. (C) Ambassador sought Youssouf's views on the
Ethiopia/Eritrea border situation, especially on reports of
troop build-ups on both sides, concerns about escalation of
tensions, and implications for Djibouti. Youssouf stated
that the situation was worrying for the Djiboutian
government. He said that it has been hearing rumors of troop
build ups on both sides of the border and during a recent
delay in movement of the Ethiopia-Djibouti train, those
rumors were confirmed. Youssouf said neither side was
admitting the build-up, preferring to characterize their
actions as simply routine military maneuvers. He continued
that Djibouti is sensing that there is very high tension now
between the two parties and he expressed concern that the
tension might inadvertently lead to hostility, even if
hostility was not the immediate aim of the parties. In his
search for an understanding of the trigger for current
tensions, Youssouf cited Ethiopia's upcoming elections. He
commented that perhaps this move is the result of Meles
wanting to show his muscles in order to send a message to
both his own electorate and to Eritrea that he will remain
firm on border issues. Youssouf said that even though Meles
has accepted the initial EEBC decision in principle, he is
not ready to make concessions.

3. (C) Continuing along the same vein, Youssouf said that the
realities on the ground were much more volatile and that any
incident could trigger war. He said that President Guelleh
has twice sent messages to Secretary General of the United
Nations, Kofi Annan, asking for UN involvement in mediating
the dispute rather than pouring money into border
surveillance. According to Youssouf, Guelleh would prefer the
money be directed to efforts of reconciliation and the
political process of resolving the conflict. Youssouf
commented that is was useless to spend money that could
otherwise be directed at development.

4. (C) Ambassador noted that the U.S. continues to encourage
Meles and Isaias to talk directly to each other about their
differences. Youssouf responded that Guelleh has tried to
convince Ethiopia and Eritrea to start over, to talk to each
other, and not to escalate the situation into conflict.
However, he said Eritrea is rigidly maintaining its earlier
position that Ethiopia has to execute the initial decision of
the border commission. Youssouf commented that he believes
Ethiopia is also trying to maneuver politically out of the
EEBC decision.

5. (C) Ambassador inquired whether the February 16th
bilateral meeting in Obock between Eritrea and Djibouti had
addressed the conflict with Ethiopia. Youssouf responded that
the bilateral meeting is a regular occurrence in
Djibouti-Eritrea diplomatic relations and was focused on
cross border concerns, such as smuggling. He said there is a
similar commission with Ethiopia as well, but the
Eritrean-Djibouti border commission meets less frequently.
Youssouf said the last commission with Eritrea was two years
ago and the next would be in August 2005. He continued that
these meetings were to discuss ways in which conditions on
both sides of their common borders might be improved and how
trade between them might be facilitated. The Eritrea-Djibouti
commission has operated primarily under auspices of the
Ministry of Interior, while the Ethiopia-Djibouti commission
is under both Interior and Foreign Affairs. Youssouf noted
that Djibouti has made known to both Ethiopia and Eritrea,
within the framework of these commissions, that is has not
been very pleased with both countries' penchant for using
Djiboutians just across their common borders to spy on
activities of the other. This activity was most prevalent at
the point where the Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Eritrea borders
intersected. According to Youssouf, this activity has now

6. (C) Regarding the impact on Djibouti's economy of an
Ethiopia-Eritrea armed conflict, Youssouf said he believes
that neither side will try to undermine or sabotage
Djibouti's economic relationship with the other in the event
of conflict. In the early stages of the border dispute,
Eritrea accused Djibouti of siding with Ethiopia. He said
Djibouti was able to convince Eritrea that it was a simple
economic relationship with Ethiopia and not bias. He
continued that diplomatic relations between Eritrea and
Djibouti were cut for two to three years until Eritrea
realized it had to balance its relations. Youssouf said it
was very difficult, but Djibouti works very hard to keep a
neutral policy and it does not wish to change that. He ended
by saying that Djibouti knows the two sides are building up
troops along the borders, and it has told both sides not to
escalate the situation. However, he said, it is ultimately up
to the two countries to decide.

7. (C) Comment: An outbreak of hostilities between Ethiopia
and Eritrea will yield its own set of difficulties for
Djibouti, whose tribal links cross both borders. An influx of
refugees into this already straining economy will be an
obvious challenge. Politically, Djibouti will be obliged to
walk a tightrope between the sensitivities of the warring
parties, hoping its interactions with the one will not be
misinterpreted by the other. It will do all it can to
discourage military action and is already at pains to keep
its relationships with both countries on even keel while
maintaining the viability of its close economic partnership
with Ethiopia. End Comment.