Sudan, Ethiopia hold border talks; area near Tigray contested

Two-day talks come a week after Ethiopian forces reportedly ambushed Sudanese troops, killing four and wounding more than 20.

Ethiopians who fled Tigray fighting collect water from Setit River on the Sudan-Ethiopia border [World Food Programme/Handout via Reuters]

Sudan and Ethiopia have started their talks in the Sudanese capital Khartoum to demarcate their border, as Addis Ababa said incidents in a disputed area jeopardised otherwise friendly ties between the neighbours.

Recent violence “did not resemble the cordial relation that exists between our two countries”, Ethiopia’s deputy prime minister and foreign minister, Demeke Mekonnen, said on Tuesday.

“It is endangering the agreements we have reached to maintain the status quo,” he said, according to the opening remarks distributed by Ethiopia’s embassy in Khartoum.

The two-day talks in the capital came a week after Ethiopian forces reportedly ambushed Sudanese troops along the border, leaving four dead and more than 20 wounded.

Sudan has since deployed troops to the al-Fashaqa border region, the site of sporadic clashes.

The most contested region there is a 250-square-kilometre (100-square-mile) area where Ethiopian farmers cultivate fertile land on territory claimed by Sudan.

The area borders Ethiopia’s troubled Tigray region, where fighting broke out early last month, causing tens of thousands of Ethiopians to flee and cross into Sudan.

But Demeke said since last month, Ethiopia observed “organised attacks by the Sudanese military forces using heavy machine guns” and armoured convoys along the border.

He said the forces had looted Ethiopian farmers’ agricultural products, vandalised their camps and hampered their harvesting. “A number of civilians have been murdered and wounded,” he said.

‘Amicable solution’

Demeke called for “reactivating the existing mechanisms and finding an amicable solution” while warning against “unnecessary escalation”.

Addis Ababa had previously downplayed last week’s reported ambush, saying it did not threaten the relationship between the two countries.

A foreign ministry spokesman in Addis Ababa told the AFP news agency Ethiopian security forces “repelled a group of (Sudanese) low-ranking officers and farmers, who had encroached on Ethiopian territory”.

Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and his Ethiopian counterpart Abiy Ahmed on Sunday agreed to the talks on the margins of a Djibouti summit of regional bloc the Intergovernmental Authority on Development.

Sudan’s minister in charge of the cabinet, Omar Manis, led the Sudanese delegation on Tuesday.

Sudan and Ethiopia share a 1,600km (nearly 1,000-mile) frontier, with meetings on border demarcation previously held between 2002 and 2006.

In 1902, a deal to draw up the border was struck between Great Britain, the colonial power in Sudan at the time, and Ethiopia, but the agreement lacked clear demarcation lines.

The last Sudan-Ethiopia border talks were held in May in Addis Ababa, but another meeting scheduled for the following month was cancelled.

Source: AFP