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UN Security Council Urges Eritrea, Djibouti to Resolve Dispute

The U.N. Security Council has urged Eritrea and Djibouti to resolve their border dispute peacefully and warned Eritrea that it must comply with the council's demand that it withdraw its troops to pre-fighting positions. From United Nations headquarters in New York, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more.

After months of tension, serious clashes erupted in June between Eritrea and Djibouti along the disputed border between the two Horn of Africa countries, in an area known as Doumeira.

Although the fighting was brief, Djibouti reported that more than 35 of its troops were killed and that many were wounded.

The U.N Security Council directed both countries to pull back their troops, but according to a U.N. fact-finding mission that visited the region in July, only Djibouti has complied.

Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh told the Security Council his government has repeatedly tried to engage Eritrea in dialogue and negotiations to resolve the matter, but has gotten nowhere. He said the council must call upon both countries to commit themselves to resolving this crisis within the next few weeks.

"Any failure to apply this decision should give rise to sanctions on the part of the council. This aggression against my country must not be ignored, remain unpunished or, even worse, be taken lightly by this council," said Guelleh.

President Guelleh said Djibouti would protect its territory and sovereignty, but that the last thing the region needs is another war.

Eritrea's U.N. Ambassador, Araya Desta, did not address his government's refusal to pull back its troops, nor did he say why Asmara refused to grant visas for the four-person U.N. fact-finding mission that was sent to investigate the situation. But he repeated his government's position that Djibouti was the aggressor in June, and said Eritrea has not seized any land that belongs to Djibouti and that it does not have any territorial ambitions.

"Eritrea will not allow itself to be dragged into and invited to engage in a diversionary and fabricated conflict, or obliged to exchange on a situation designed to foment conflict on the ground," said Desta.

The U.N. fact-finding mission reported that "the situation remains fragile, volatile and urgent." It warned that Djibouti is being drawn into a "crippling and expensive" military mobilization and that if the situation is not addressed quickly, it could have a major negative effect on the entire region and the wider international community.

Security Council members urged Eritrea and Djibouti to find a peaceful solution to the crisis, and called for Eritrea to comply with its call last June to commit to a cease-fire, engage in diplomatic negotiations and withdraw its forces to pre-conflict positions. The council said arbitration is also open to the parties as a means to resolving the conflict. But the council clearly put the burden on Eritrea to cooperate, end its silence and move to the negotiating table.