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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 26 February 2021

Talks to resume on Ethiopia's Nile dam amid rising tensions

Chances of a deal on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam appear slim following recent disputes between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan

Negotiations over a disputed Ethiopian dam on the Nile were scheduled to resume after a month-long break.

Relations between Ethiopia and neighbours Egypt and Sudan, already strained by disagreements over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project, have soured over pronouncements and domestic policy from Addis Ababa.

On Thursday, Egypt’s government summoned the Ethiopian charge d’affaires in Cairo to complain about comments made by Dina Mufti, the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry spokesman, accusing Egypt of using the dispute over the dam project to bury its internal problems.

The diplomat, according to the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, was told that the remarks constituted a “blatant and unacceptable transgression” and were a provocation designed to conceal “Ethiopia’s own repeated failures”.

Egypt and Sudan, both downstream of the dam, have been trying to persuade Ethiopia to enter a legally-binding deal on its operation and the means of handling future disputes and the region’s persistent droughts.

The ministerial-level talks, sponsored by the African Union, were scheduled to take place online as a coronavirus prevention measure.

Sudan has a quarrel with Ethiopia which escalated after a border dispute flared into a series of deadly clashes.

Ethiopian federal forces are fighting separatist rebels in the Tigray region.

That conflict, which began in November, forced tens of thousands of mainly Tigrayans to seek refuge in Sudan.

Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed hinted that Egypt was trying to drive a wedge between his country and Sudan, where the military side of a transitional government is close to the Egyptian leadership.

On Saturday, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi and Sudan’s head of state, Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan, held discussions by phone.

Presidential spokesman Bassam Rady said Mr El Sisi assured Gen Al Burhan of Egypt’s “full support of Sudan” because of the “close bond between the national security” of the two countries.

For nearly a decade, the three nations have held negotiations over the dam without agreement.

The Nile meets nearly 95 per cent of Egypt’s water needs.

A significant drop in its share of the river’s water could mean the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs and the disruption of food supplies.

For Sudan, the absence of co-ordination on the operation of the dam built a short distance away from its border could spell disaster for its eastern breadbasket region through flooding and the disabling of its hydroelectric dams on the Nile.

Updated: January 3, 2021 11:00 PM

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