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Durham University

IBRU: Centre for Borders Research

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Djibouti and Eritrea agree to boundary mediation with Qatar

(10 June 2010)

Djibouti and Eritrea have agreed to have their boundary dispute mediated by Qatar. The agreement announced on 9 June indicates that a commission will be set up chaired by Qatar’s Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani and including representatives from both Djibouti and Eritrea to resolve the dispute. The two sides have also agreed to allow a Qatari force to monitor the cease fire until the boundary dispute has been resolved. Just two days prior, it was reported that Eritrea had pulled its troops back from their forward positions on the Doumeirah peninsula where they had stood literally toe-to-toe with Djibouti soldiers for over two years. In April 2008 Eritrean forces began entrenching positions along the unmarked boundary which Djibouti claimed were encroaching on its territory. Tensions escalated as Djibouti moved its troops closer to the Eritrean positions and skirmishes broke out in June 2008 killing at least 35. Several Western and Arab states along with the UN Security Council and the Arab League called on Eritrea to return its forces to their previous positions. Although there have been no reports of significant fighting since skirmishes ended in 2008, soldiers from both sides have remained in close proximity as Eritrea refused to abandon its forward positions until this recent move.

The northernmost section of the Djibouti-Eritrea boundary was defined in French-Italian agreements of 1900 and 1901 as following the watershed along the Doumeirah peninsula which forms a prominent headland on the Red Sea coastline. The 1900 agreement also stipulated that Doumeirah Island and several outlying rocks situated just 600 metres off the tip of the peninsula were the possession of neither France nor Italy but could not be acquired by any third party. Under a subsequent agreement reached in 1935, France and Italy shifted the boundary southward and allocated the islands to Italian Eritrea. However, Italy eventually pulled out of the deal and it appears that the 1900/01 treaty agreement remained the status quo until both states gained independence. Djibouti has claimed that this section of the boundary should follow a course farther to the north, as stipulated in an earlier 1897 Franco-Italian treaty. Although it is likely that Eritrea would advocate the validity of the 1935 agreement, it's exact claim is unclear. It is also unclear if the boundary was actually demarcated in 1900, but any marks are unlikely to remain in place. Previous skirmishes took place along this disputed boundary section in 1996 and 1998.

Under the process of mediation, it is likely that Qatari officials will act as intermediaries in the negotiations between the two parties and will not be able to render any kind of binding judgment. Reports indicate that the trilateral commission will appoint an external contractor to demarcate the boundary on the ground. Unless the two sides have agreed on the valid treaties in question, it is unlikely that demarcation will be undertaken in the very near future. However, by withdrawing their forces and agreeing to mediated talks both states have shown a willingness to resolve the dispute peacefully.

Sources: 'Ban Welcomes Deal Between Eritrea and Djibouti to Resolve Border Conflict' All Africa, 9 June 2010; 'Djibouti confirms withdrawal of Eritrean troops' BBC Monitoring Africa, 9 June 2010; 'Qatar to mediate between Djibouti and Eritrea on border dispute' Sudan Tribune, 9 June 2010; 'UN chief lauds Eritrea-Djibouti deal' Agence France Presse, 9 June 2010.

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