Ethiopia doubts Eritrea's intentions

2010-06-28 14:42

Nairobi - Ethiopia said a border agreement by Eritrea and Djibouti to end their two-year stand-off should be taken with scepticism because arch-foe Eritrea was out to destabilise the region.

Earlier this month, Eritrea and Djibouti negotiated the deal, brokered by Qatar, which was praised by the African Union and widely welcomed by the international community.

The two Red Sea nations, who overlook vital shipping lanes linking Europe and Asia, have traded accusations and engaged in occasional border skirmishes since June 2008 when Djibouti said Eritrea crossed the border and began occupying its territory

Djibouti says Eritrea has now withdrawn its troops as part of the deal.

"The international community should take any positive signal from the regime in Asmara ... with a modicum of optimism ... but it has to be a guarded one," Ethiopia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Monday.

"Eritrea's behaviour is far from reassuring," it said, citing the lack of detail known about the deal and the fact it did not involve any major international body.

"There is no evidence to even remotely suggest that (Eritrea) has altogether stopped its destructive activities in Somalia and other countries of the region," Ethiopia said in a statement posted on the ministry's website.

Eritrea used to be a part of Ethiopia and it fought a 30-year war for its independence. The two foes returned to war in 1998-2000 in a conflict that cost some 70,000 lives.

Eritrea has repeatedly denied that it arms Somali rebel groups, and it has often claimed the Djibouti dispute was a fabrication invented by enemies to tarnish its image.

Analysts say this may explain why Eritrea has not commented on the deal - Information Minister Ali Abdu declined to acknowledge it to Reuters - and why the state-run newspaper, the Eritrea Profile, is yet to refer to it in print.

"Look at the repeated public statements by the president over the course of the year that called the conflict a fabrication and denied Eritrean soldiers ever stepped foot on soil in Djibouti," a western diplomat told Reuters.

"No one in the government is willing to now contradict him by admitting to a well-known troop withdrawal, or to Qatar mediating what is a real conflict," the diplomat said.