Sudan’s Hamdok says regional meeting on Ethiopia conflict agreed

Source: The National News

Sudan’s prime minister said he had agreed with his counterpart in Addis Ababa to hold an urgent meeting of a bloc of east African countries to resolve the crisis in Ethiopia’s Tigray region.

Ethiopia did not immediately confirm Abdallah Hamdok’s announcement of an “emergency” meeting of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development.

Sudan’s prime minister flew to Ethiopia on Sunday for a visit lasting several hours amid growing tension in the region over Addis Ababa’s military campaign in the northern region of Tigray and the enduring dispute over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

The previously unannounced visit by Abdalla Hamdok, according to an official announcement in Khartoum, produced an agreement to revive a joint committee to demarcate their joint border after a series of armed clashes there in recent months.

The two leaders also agreed to resume next week negotiations on a disputed Nile dam being built by Ethiopia. There was no immediate word on the resumption of the talks from Egypt which, like Sudan, is a downstream nation that has been part of those negotiations since they began a decade ago.

Mr Hamdok was accompanied by a high-level delegation that was heavy on security experts. It included the armed forces’ deputy chief of staff, the heads of the military and general intelligence agencies and the acting foreign minister.

The visit came as Sudan was struggling to feed and shelter tens of thousands of Tigrayans who have escaped fighting in their region since November to seek sanctuary in its eastern region.

The number of refugees has reached about 50,000 and was expected to climb to 200,000 within months if the fighting continues between federal forces and separatist rebels.

The presence of so many Tigrayan refugees could drag Sudan into the conflict, which has distinct ethnic undertones and is likely to have far-reaching consequences for the delicate balance between the Ethiopia’s rival ethnic and religious groups.

Analysts in Sudan have warned that the Tigrayan rebels and their leaders would melt into the tens of thousands of refugees in eastern Sudan, which could also be used as a route for arms smuggling into Tigray.

Mr Hamdok, whose long career as a UN economist meant spending considerable time in Addis Ababa before becoming prime minister last year, is known to have good relations with his Ethiopian counterpart, Abiy Ahmed.

The Ethiopian leader played a key mediating role in months of tortuous negotiations between Sudan’s pro-democracy movement and its top generals following the removal of dictator Omar Al Bashir in April 2019.

His mediation produced a landmark, power-sharing agreement in August last year while considerably raising the profile in Africa of Mr Abiy, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for making peace with longtime enemy and neighbor Eritrea.

However, Sudan remains alarmed by the impact of the hydroelectric dam Ethiopia has almost completed building on the Blue Nile a short distance away from the Sudanese border.

Sudan believes its own hydroelectric Blue Nile dams, especially the one at Roseres, would be damaged or at least negatively impacted if an agreement on the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, or GERD, was not reached.

Protracted, decades-long negotiations between Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia have failed to produce an agreement. Citing its sovereignty, Addis Ababa has been insisting it would only agree to a set of guidelines, not a legally-binding deal.

The Blue Nile originates on Ethiopia’s highlands and accounts for 85 per cent of the Nile’s waters after it meets the White Nile in Khartoum and travels north into Egypt and all the way to the Mediterranean.

Sudan last month suspended its participation in the negotiations after Cairo and Addis Ababa rejected its demand that African water and river experts assume a more active role in the negotiations.

Last week, top Sudanese officials from the foreign and water ministries briefed the heads of foreign diplomatic missions in Khartoum on the negotiations, part of a diplomatic drive to publicise its position.

Sudan, according to a statement on a briefing last week for African diplomats, wanted an agreement that provided it with its “full right” to gain access to data on the filling and operation of the GERD. “Not providing that poses great danger to the safety of its people and its strategic installations on the Blue Nile,” said the statement carried by the official SUNA news agency.

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