France offers to help Qatar mediation in Horn of Africa

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France is ready to support Qatar's bid to end a border dispute between Djibouti and Eritrea that last sparked a flare-up in fighting in 2008, President Nicolas Sarkozy said Tuesday.

Sarkozy welcomed an agreement between Eritrea and Djibouti, which hosts France's largest foreign military base, to seek a mediation from Qatar, saying it would restore "calmer relations" between the two neighbours.

The president "wishes them success in their mediation effort to which France is ready to lend its full support," said a statement from the presidential press office.

Qatar said on Monday that Eritrean troops had withdrawn from an area they controlled in Djibouti as a result of Doha's mediation bid.

Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani was quoted by official QNA news as saying that Eritrea has already conducted "a withdrawal from disputed border areas," a move verified by a Qatari observer force.

The Qatari mediation provides for the formation of a committee, headed by Sheikh Hamad, which is empowered to appoint an international firm to demarcate the border, with Eritrea and Djibouti's consent, QNA said.

The Qatari observation force is tasked with monitoring the border between the two countries "until the conclusion of a final agreement on settling the conflict," QNA reported.

The force, made up of about 20 soldiers, arrived in Djibouti on Friday, according to Djibouti press reports.

The long-running border row between Djibouti and Eritrea over the disputed Ras Doumeira promontory on the shores of the Red Sea led to clashes in 1996, 1999 and again in 2008.

Qatar, a small Gulf country rich in natural gas and oil, has offered to mediate in various conflicts, including internal strife in Sudan, Yemen and Lebanon.

© 2010 AFP

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