By Aaron Maasho*
ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Djibouti has asked the African Union to deploy observers along its disputed border with Eritrea after Qatar withdrew its peace-keeping troops two weeks ago, the Djibouti foreign minister said on Monday.
The Qataris were sent to the region after clashes broke out between Eritrea and Djibouti in 2008, but they were pulled out without warning on June 14.
Qatar gave no reason for the withdrawal, but it came days after both Djibouti and Eritrea sided with Gulf Arab nations that had broken off relations with Qatar.
“The Qatari forces left on short notice without really preparing the ground. Leaving the status quo was not in the best interest of both countries,” Djiboutian Foreign Minister Mahamoud Ali Youssouf told Reuters during a summit of African Union leaders in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
“We proposed to the African Union that it take over the disputed side and fill the gap. We need the African Union to act very quickly,” Youssouf said.
A dozen Djiboutian troops were killed and dozens wounded in the 2008 clashes with Eritrea. The fighting erupted after Djibouti accused Eritrea of sending troops across the border.
Amid fears the conflict would escalate and spread, the U.N. Security Council requested that both sides withdraw. Qatari volunteered to mediate the dispute and deploy observers.
After Qatar pulled its troops out of the region, Djibouti accused Eritrea of occupying the disputed Dumeira area along their border.
“In the beginning, there were a limited number of Eritrean troops in the disputed areas. But then they pulled back,” Youssouf said.
The African Union has called on both sides to exercise restraint and said it would deploy a fact-finding mission to the disputed area. Diplomats said Eritrea has not yet responded to that request.
Youssouf said a potential African Union deployment could involve conflict-prevention experts or members of a regional “standby force” the union is setting up.