CAIRO: The Egyptian Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation announced on Dec. that Egypt intends to construct a dam to collect rain and flood water in the basin valleys of Shalatin in the Halaib triangle on the Red Sea coast, raising concerns that it could spark a diplomatic row with Sudan.
Sameh Sakr, head of the ministry’s groundwater and irrigation department told Egypt’s official MENA news agency that the dam will have a capacity of 7 million cubic meters and, at 12 meters high, will be the biggest in the Eastern Desert of Egypt. Sakr also claimed the dam would assist greatly in developing the region and protecting it from flooding.
Cairo has allocated 378 million Egyptian pounds ($18 million) to construct 11 dams and seven lakes to help protect development areas in the Red Sea province from winter floods, which have historically caused significant damage and a number of deaths.
On Friday, however, Sudanese Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour reasserted his country’s claim over the Halaib region.
In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Ghandour issued “an invitation to Egypt to negotiate the sovereignty over (this) land, or resort to international arbitration.”
He added: “We hope that our Egyptian brothers will negotiate, as they did with our Saudi brothers over the matter of Tiran and Sanafir, or resort to international arbitration as they did with Israel over the matter of Taba. Either choice will prevent any issue in our brotherly relations.”
Ghandour said: “We will not let Halaib damage Sudanese-Egyptian relations. However, we will never hand over Halaib.”
According to the 1899 Sudan Agreement signed by the British and Egyptian governments, the latitude 22° territorial boundary separates the two countries, which meant the Halaib triangle was in Egyptian territory.
Sudan, though, recognizes the administrative boundary drawn up in 1902, which assigned around 18,000 square km to Sudan, including the towns of Halaib and Abu Ramad.
When Sudan gained independence in 1956, both sides claimed sovereignty over the Halaib triangle. Since the mid-90s, Egypt administered the area as part of the Red Sea Governorate.
In July this year, Sudan filed a notice with the UN, claiming that Egypt is occupying the triangle, and refusing to claim any rights for a third party. That same month, Cairo announced it would start oil and gas exploration in the Red Sea Governorate, including the Halaib triangle.
Tensions between Sudan and Egypt have escalated lately, due to several issues, including contention over their border, and Sudan’s support for Ethiopia in negotiations over the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which Cairo fears Ethiopia will manage in a way that reduces Egypt’s historical water share from the Blue Nile.
Amid these tensions, the Egyptian authorities have released around 300 illegal Sudanese immigrants, who were jailed in Shalatin six months ago, according to the Sudanese newspaper Al-Youm Al-Tali.