Friday, June 13, 2008

A different border

While I've been posting a bit about the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, a more traditional, if not less tangled, problem is emerging in a border dispute between Djibouti and Eritrea. A May 25 New York Times piece by Jeffrey Gettleman (thanks to HC for alerting me to it a while back) notes that the problem is partly rooted in an unclear history:

"Scholars say that the border area was never properly demarcated, and that the best guidance as to who owns what goes back to a vague communiqué between France and Italy more than 100 years ago. They were the colonial powers at the time, with France occupying what is now Djibouti and Italy controlling what is now Eritrea.

"According to John Donaldson, a research associate at the International Boundaries Research Unit, a British institute that studies border disputes, France and Italy agreed in 1901 that no third country could rule the Doumeira area [the disputed zone, which includes a hill and a small island in the Red Sea], and that specific border issues would be dealt with later.

"'It’s very complicated,' he said. 'But the question was basically left up in the air.'

"Djiboutian officials said the Eritreans made a play for this area in the mid-1990s, producing old documents and saying that the territory was theirs. But Djiboutian officials said that their trump card is an 1897 treaty between Ethiopia and France that clearly states that the Doumeira area was French.

"According to the Djiboutian government, the Eritreans asked in January if they could cross the border to get some sand to build a road. Instead, they occupied a hilltop and started digging trenches.

"'In one word, they cheated,' said Col. Ali Soubaneh Chirdon, who commands the Djiboutian soldiers lined up on the border.'"

The U.S. and France have military bases in Djibouti and are backing it in the dispute. There are various possible explanations for the Eritreans' willingness to take on an apparently more powerful foe. In addition to the NYT article, which gives more background and description of the current situation than I have quoted here, see D. Nexon at Duck of Minerva on this.


simon said...

You can find at the Reuters blog, a very insightful information on what skulduggery Eritrea is facing. Read comment no.2 with loads of links .

LFC said...

Thanks, simon, I will look at it.