The Sudan-Ethiopia border region remained tense on Tuesday, a day after a diplomatic row erupted between the two neighbours over the death this month of seven Sudanese soldiers and a civilian that Khartoum says were executed by the Ethiopians.
Residents in the area said Sudanese and Ethiopian forces have been exchanging fire at the border region in eastern Sudan and that reinforcements were arriving in the area from elsewhere in eastern Sudan.
Bloomberg News Service, quoting a local official, said the shelling had struck three localities in the area, but did not know if there were any casualties or material damage.
Sudan’s military leader Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan toured army positions in the area of Fashaqa on Monday, vowing to avenge the death of the eight Sudanese.
Khartoum on Monday said the eight people were captured by Ethiopians inside Sudan and taken across the border where they were executed on June 22.
The Sudanese government said it was recalling its ambassador in Addis Ababa in protest and that it had summoned the Ethiopian envoy in Khartoum.
In pictures: Ethiopian soldiers in training
A resident in the area, Mohammed Hassan, said the Sudanese were captured when Ethiopian militiamen ambushed them in the Al Asirah area, about 17 kilometres inside Sudan, and they were later taken to Ethiopia, he told The National by phone from eastern Sudan.
Ethiopia, however, offered a different account of the incident.
In a statement, Addis Ababa said the eight Sudanese were inside Ethiopia when they clashed with members of a local militia. It expressed its regret for the loss of life and pledged to investigate the incident, urging Sudan not to escalate the situation.
The border dispute between Sudan and Ethiopia has been going on for years but it has erupted into a series of deadly clashes over the past 18 months.
At the heart of their quarrel is the Fashaqa area, a fertile border strip long settled by Ethiopians from the Amhara ethnic group, who are protected by a local militia.
Addressing troops on Monday, Gen Al Burhan pledged more support for forces deployed in the border region to enable them to “protect the land and honour”.
“The blood of the martyrs will not go to waste. The response [to the death of the eight Sudanese] will be tangible and recognised on the ground,” he said without elaborating.
The Sudanese-Ethiopian border dispute feeds into a wider conflict between the two nations.
Sudan, like fellow downstream nation Egypt, is angered by Ethiopia’s reluctance to enter a legally binding agreement on the filling and operation of a hydroelectric dam on the Blue Nile.
It says it needs real-time data on the dam to avoid flooding and ensure the smooth operation of its own dams. Egypt, for its part, says any reduction in its share of the Nile’s waters would wipe out hundreds of thousands of farming jobs and disrupt its delicate food balance.
Ethiopia has repeatedly sought to reassure the two countries that no harm would come to them from the dam. This month, it said it was ready to resume negotiations on the dam, but neither Cairo or Khartoum publicly responded to Addis Ababa’s overture.
The last round of negotiations between the three nations was held in April last year.