Eritrea, Djibouti agree to normalize diplomatic relations

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — Neighbors Eritrea and Djibouti have agreed to normalize relations after a decade of diplomatic stalemate in the latest thaw between countries in the strategic Horn of Africa region.

Ethiopia's foreign minister, Workneh Gebeyehu, called the decision "a historic diplomatic achievement" in a Facebook post. The announcement came after an Ethiopia-led mediation effort.

"(Djibouti's) President Omar Guelleh stated that Djibouti is ready for reconciliation," Eritrea's information minister, Yemane Gebremeskel, said on Twitter.

Eritrea, one of the world's most closed-off nations, and Djibouti have a border dispute extending back to 2008. Eritrea long accused Ethiopia of supporting Djibouti in the dispute.

Between 2010 and 2017 Qatar attempted to mediate a settlement but that effort failed, and Qatar in June 2017 withdrew its 450 peacekeeping troops from the border. Djibouti accused Eritrean troops of occupying the Dumeira mountain area shortly after the peacekeepers left.

In July, Djibouti's U.N. ambassador asked the U.N. secretary-general to work with the Security Council to bring his tiny Red Sea port nation and Eritrea together "with the aim of facilitating an agreement."

The ambassador noted that the council imposed sanctions on Eritrea in 2009 "because of its aggression against Djibouti and its refusal to withdraw its troops from the disputed area, and its rejection of all efforts aimed at mediating between the two parties."

Eritrea has sought the lifting of those sanctions while pointing to the region's latest diplomatic shifts. It has denied supporting the Somalia-based al-Shabab extremist group, another reason cited for the sanctions.

The Horn of Africa region has seen a number of diplomatic thaws since Ethiopia's reformist new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in June fully accepted a peace deal that ended a 1998-2000 border war with Eritrea that killed tens of thousands. Restored diplomatic ties quickly followed.

Eritrea and Somalia in late July agreed to restore diplomatic ties, while Somalia's leader called for sanctions on Eritrea to be removed.

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