African Union calls for resolution to dispute over Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam

It called for the urgently finalising of a binding agreement on the filling and operation of the Nile dam

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The African Union has called for an urgent agreement over the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (Gerd), the project that has stoked tensions between Ethiopia and its downstream neighbours, Egypt and Sudan.

It said on Friday that the most recent virtual talks, held on Tuesday and overseen by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, showed progress. But Ethiopia rejected the call for a binding agreement and said that it will only accept a guiding agreement.

The AU underscored “the importance of cooperation as a basis for integration” for the prosperity of all three countries.

Egypt and Sudan view the dam as a threat to their water supplies, while Ethiopia considers it essential for its electrification and development.

Ethiopia planned to begin filling the dam's reservoir this month, in the middle of its rainy season.

Ethiopia said on Tuesday that its first-year target has been reached for filling a dam on the Blue Nile River.

The announcement from Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's office indicated that enough water had accumulated to enable Ethiopia to test the dam's first two turbines – a milestone on the way to producing electricity.

But it risked drawing the ire of both Cairo and Khartoum, which had insisted that a trilateral agreement on the dam's operations be reached before Addis Ababa began impounding water in the dam's reservoir.

"It has become evident over the past two weeks in the rainy season that the Gerd first year filling is achieved and the dam under construction is already overtopping," Mr Abiy's office said in a statement.

The project has been a source of tension in the Nile River basin since Ethiopia broke ground on it in 2011.

Last week, Ethiopian officials acknowledged that water was gathering in the dam's reservoir, though officials said this was a "natural" part of the construction process.

The statement from Mr Abiy's office on Tuesday did not say if the first-year target had been hit through a "natural" process or through steps to expedite filling.

Egyptian President Abdel Fatah El Sisi said after the Tuesday mini-summit that Cairo had a “sincere desire” to resolve the dam dispute and its “points of contention”.