In February 2008, tensions began to rise between Eritrea and Djibouti over a border area last disputed in 1996, resulting in an Eritrean incursion into Djibouti in April 2008. Diplomatic initiatives by the African Union (AU) and the Arab League diffused tensions between the two countries in May 2008, but fighting erupted on 10 June 2008.
On 12 June 2008, the UN Security Council condemned “Eritrea’s military action against Djibouti,” called for a cease fire and urged both parties, but “in particular Eritrea,” to withdraw forces to the status quo ante and engage in diplomatic efforts, encouraging the Secretary-General to use his good offices in coordination with regional mediation efforts (S/PRST/2008/20). The AU, the Arab League, and the East African regional bloc, Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), also condemned the military attack by Eritrea. Although fighting ceased after 12 June 2008, Eritrea – unlike Djibouti – did not withdraw its troops and repeatedly denied the existence a conflict. Eritrea also refused entry to the UN fact-finding mission and continued to reject regional and international attempts to resolve the conflict diplomatically, pointing instead to the “biased” nature of Security Council statements and the unresolved border dispute with Ethiopia.
On 14 January 2009, the Security Council in UNSCR 1862 demanded that Eritrea withdraw its forces to the status quo ante within 5 weeks (18 February 2009) and called on it to acknowledge the border dispute and engage in dialogue with Djibouti. Eritrea rejected the demands, maintaining that it was not occupying any of Djibouti’s territory.
In parallel to the border dispute with Djibouti, on 15 May 2009, the Security Council expressed its concern over reports that Eritrea had supplied arms to those opposing the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia in breach of the UN arms embargo imposed in UNSCR 733 (1992) and UNSCR 1844 (2008). In the Presidential statement (S/PRST/2009/5), the Security Council also tasked the Somalia Monitoring Group to investigate these reports. Both IGAD and AU subsequently repeatedly called for the UN Security Council to impose sanctions on Eritrea over its role in the Somali conflict.
Eritrea provided support to armed opposition groups in Somalia in the context of a regional proxy war between the TFG (backed by Ethiopia, among others) and its opponents (backed by Eritrea, among others). This included support for the United Islamic Courts (UIC) during its insurrection against the TFG in 2004-2006 (see Episode 2 of the Somalia sanctions regime), and its splinter group Al-Shabaab, which separated from the UIC in 2006 and became the most powerful armed group in Somalia in 2007 (Al-Shabaab was designed as foreign terrorist organization by the US in February 2008). Although Ethiopian troops pulled out of Somalia in January 2009, Eritrea’s support for armed opposition groups in Somalia, including Al-Shabaab, continued. This was confirmed by the Monitoring Group on Somalia in July 2009, which reiterated its findings indicating Eritrean support for armed opposition groups in Somalia reported since 2005.
Eritrea continued to deny any involvement in the insurgency in Somalia, including by providing arms or military training to groups opposing the TFG, or the existence of a border dispute with Djibouti. It also rejected the UN-facilitated August 2008 Djibouti Peace Agreement between the TFG and the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS), an alliance including ICU, which provided for a ceasefire and the deployment of an international stabilization force in Somalia in line with UNSCR 1814 of 15 May 2008.