Sudan launches diplomatic campaign over border dispute with Ethiopia

Khartoum sends senior envoys to Saudi Arabia and South Africa

FILE PHOTO: Sudan's new Prime Minister in the transitional government Abdalla Hamdok, speaks during a Reuters interview in Khartoum, Sudan August 24, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/File Photo
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Sudan launched a diplomatic campaign to rally support in its border dispute with Ethiopia, sending senior envoys to Saudi Arabia and South Africa.

The drive, which began in South Africa on Tuesday, is the latest development in the worsening tussle between the two African nations.

Sudan is massing troops on its border with Ethiopia to regain control of areas on its land that have long been settled by farmers from its neighbour's powerful Amhara group, which are backed by militias.

Sudan has vowed to protect Sudanese territory to the last man and to wrest back control of border areas still held by the farmers.

Ethiopia warned Sudan that its patience was running out and accused its neighbour of infiltrating its territory.

A Sudanese border patrol came under mortar fire from Ethiopian troops this week.

The patrol, which returned fire, did not suffer any casualties in the incident late on Sunday night.

This month, five Sudanese women and a child were killed by suspected Ethiopian militiamen near the border. Two more women have been missing since the attack.

Ethiopian Foreign Ministry spokesman Dina Mufti said Addis Ababa was prepared to negotiate over the border dispute if Sudanese forces withdrew from the areas they retook since December, a condition Khartoum is certain to reject.

Sudan and Ethiopia have long had flare-ups on the border, which was demarcated in a 1902 agreement reaffirmed in 1972.

The two nations are bound by deep cultural and social links but each has for decades supported rebels fighting the other’s government in the second half of the 20th century.

Sudan’s diplomatic campaign is designed to increase pressure on Ethiopia to negotiate a settlement.

Khartoum also wants to portray Addis Ababa as intransigent in a decade of negotiations over a hydroelectric Nile dam being built by Ethiopia.

Sudan wants Ethiopia to include it in operations of the dam to avoid flooding and the disruption of its own power-generating dams on the Blue Nile.

Ethiopia refuses to enter a legally binding agreement, saying it was willing only to accept recommendations.

As part of the diplomatic drive, Mohammed Al Faky, a civilian member of Sudan’s 11-member Sovereignty Council, flew to Saudi Arabia to brief leaders on the border dispute.

With him were the head of Sudan’s intelligence service, Gamal Abdel Meguid, and Religious Affairs Minister Nasreldeen Abdel Meguid.

Another civilian member of the council, Mohammed Al Taishi, visited South Africa on Tuesday and was in Kenya on Wednesday on the same mission.

Travelling with him was acting foreign minister Omar Al Deen.

South Africa is the current chair of the African Union. It hands over leadership of the group to the Democratic Republic of Congo next month.

Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan, the head of Sudan's Sovereignty Council and de facto head of state, is scheduled to visit Kuwait and the UAE early in February.

His deputy, Gen Mohammed Dagalo, is expected to visit Qatar about the same time, the council said.

The Sovereignty Council, made up of five generals and six civilians, was created in 2019.

It is part of a power-sharing deal between the generals who ousted dictator Omar Al Bashir, and the pro-democracy movement that held months of street protests leading to his removal in April 2019.