Egypt and Sudan set to co-operate on developing border region

Despite dispute over who owns Halaib Triangle, both countries appear ready to create joint economic zone there.

CAIRO // Egypt and Sudan are weighing plans to create a co-operative economic zone in Egypt's southern Halaib Triangle, an underdeveloped region whose governance has been a minor but repeated point of contention between the two nations for decades. The long-simmering dispute over the triangle, a 20,580-sq-km region wedged between Sudan and the Red Sea, came to the fore again on June 30 when Sudan's president, Omar al Bashir, told crowds in the coastal Sudanese city of Port Sudan that "Halaib is Sudanese and will stay Sudanese." While Egyptian leaders rushed to counter that Halaib will remain part of Egypt, analysts dismissed Mr Al Bashir's comments as little more than political bluster from an embattled president who faces international war crimes charges and an independence referendum in southern Sudan next year.

Iglal Raft, a professor of political science at Cairo University, said: "I think the Sudanese government raised this issue to cover up the interior issues that Sudan has or some regional issues." Ms Raft said Mr al Bashir's comment was not the first time a Sudanese president has asserted control over the sensitive region, which has been the subject of diplomatic sabre-rattling since Sudan's independence from Britain and Egypt in 1956. "This issue has been raised six times since the independence of Sudan and there haven't been any concrete results after all the times that this was raised," Ms Raft said.

But the continuing dispute belies a diplomatic relationship that remains seamless, said officials at Egypt's ministry of foreign affairs said. Over the past few years, Egypt has made strong statements against the partition of Sudan's largely Christian and animist southern region and stood up for Mr al Bashir even after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for him last year for crimes against humanity in the country's western Darfur region. Since then, the court has also filed charges of genocide against the Sudanese president. Hossam Zaki, the official spokesperson for Egypt's foreign ministry, said "The southern borders of Egypt are on the 22nd parallel," referring to the colonial-era border between Sudan and Egypt. "Both presidents, in any case, have agreed that this area will be an area of co-operation and development so as to make life easy for the inhabitants and those who are close to the borders for various purposes."