World holds breath as Eritrea, Djibouti eye war [Archives:2008/1179/Reportage]

August 7 2008

By: The Media Line/ Daniel Ooko

With world oil prices soaring, the very real possibility of an outbreak of war between Eritrea and Djibouti is of increasing concern to the United States and other Western powers. Supertankers carry millions of barrels of oil past their coastline everyday, heading for the massive markets of Europe and beyond. The Media Line looks at the efforts to prevent a return to bloodshed between old enemies

The Horn of Africa nations Eritrea and Djibouti overlook one of the world's most important waterways and the international community fears a potential war between the two could impact on supertankers making their way west from the Gulf. The country's borders meet at Bab al-Mandab the narrow strait that separates the Gulf of Aden from the Red Sea route to the Suez Canal and the massive markets of Europe and North America.

Right now the United States and other powers are concerned the Horn and the waters around it are breeding grounds for piracy and Islamist-based terror, and they do not want to see another military front opening in a region that has witnessed so much bloodshed in years past.

The African Union (AU) has denounced what is sees as Eritrea's campaign of violence against its neighbor, Djibouti, and warned it would not allow any African state to use force against another over colonial border integrity.

Eritrea has been edging closer to war with neighboring Djibouti since April this year. The extent of the military aggression between the two states has placed the Horn of Africa region in a dangerous situation, and is likely to involve the U.S., France and Ethiopia.

The U.S. has a military base in Djibouti, as does France, which had reportedly pledged to provide military hardware to assist Djibouti against Eritrea.

France is reported to have 2,900 soldiers stationed in Djibouti, backed by 10 attack helicopters and fighter planes, while the U.S. has 1,100 troops on Djiboutian soil. The U.S. is understood to be considering Djibouti as the possible location for a new military headquarters for its African operations.

The AU leaders, tasked with ensuring peace prevails in the continent, met at an Egyptian resort in A-Sheikh from June 30-July 1, and rejected Eritrea's bid to advance further into Djiboutian territory, saying every AU member was obligated to respect the territory of the other.

“The situation obtaining at the border between Djibouti and Eritrea and the tension which characterizes the relations between the two countries is a source of serious concern