Sudan denies ‘military cooperation’ with Turkey over port investment

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, right, gives a press conference with his Sudanese counterpart Ibrahim Al-Ghandour after their meeting together and with their respective intelligence chiefs at Tahrir Palace in the Egyptian capital Cairo on Thursday. (AFP)
Updated 09 February 2018

Sudan denies ‘military cooperation’ with Turkey over port investment

CAIRO: Sudan on Thursday denied any military cooperation with Turkey over a controversial port after a meeting with Egypt to ease months of diplomatic tensions.
“There is no intention to establish a Turkish base, not in Suakin, nor any place in Sudan,” Sudanese Foreign Minister Ibrahim Al-Ghandour said in Cairo.
The meeting was called after the latest flare-up in decades of difficult relations, and as part of an agreement struck by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and the Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir at the African Union summit in Ethiopia last month.
On Jan. 4, Sudan recalled its ambassador to Cairo days after Egyptian media warned that Sudan was “playing with fire” by strengthening its ties with Qatar and Turkey.
Ankara signed a cooperation deal in December with Khartoum and agreed to carry out a series of reconstruction projects in Sudan worth $650 million.
These included rebuilding the port of Suakin on Sudan’s Red Sea coast. Turkey said this would increase tourism to Sudan and establish a transit point for pilgrims traveling to Makkah.
Egypt feared that Turkey planned to use Suakin as a military base to gain a foothold in the region.
At a press conference with his Egyptian counterpart on Thursday, Al-Ghandour stressed the area has 400 buildings and “it is a pure Sudanese property for Sudanese people only.”
“The Turkish president offered to renovate old houses and offered to be used as a tourist island for the common benefit between Sudan and Egypt,” he said.
During the meeting between the foreign ministers and heads of the intelligence services from the two countries, Egypt and Sudan agreed to stop their war of words, and strengthen relations.
Egyptian Foreign Ministry said the discussions were “very successful.”
Khartoum and Cairo have long disagreed over ideological and territorial issues, including the status of an 8,000 sq. mile piece of land known as the Hala’ib Triangle.
They also disagree over a multibillion-dollar dam Ethiopia is building on its share of the Nile. Sudan supports the project, but Egypt fears it will have a severe effect on water supplies downstream.
The statement said the countries would raise the level of bilateral cooperation to the highest level and set up a framework to open up coordination regarding the Ethiopian dam.
The two sides also agreed to improve cooperation in a number of areas including energy and infrastructure projects and communication between the foreign ministers.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri said the two countries would raise security and political coordination to the highest level.
Al-Ghandour said the meeting was “a historic point in the relations between the two countries” and that the Sudanese ambassador to Cairo would return very soon.
He said relations between the two countries is a historical one of blood and brotherhood.


Syrian and Russian troops sweep into Manbij as US withdraws

Updated 34 min 30 sec ago

Syrian and Russian troops sweep into Manbij as US withdraws

  • Standoff looms in northern Syrian town of Manbij as Turkish offensive continues

MANBIJ, Syria: Turkey ignored US sanctions and pressed on with its assault on northern Syria on Tuesday, while the Russia-backed Syrian army roared into one of the most hotly contested cities abandoned by US forces in Donald Trump’s retreat.
Reuters journalists accompanied Syrian government forces who entered the center of the city of Manbij, a flashpoint where US troops had previously conducted joint patrols with Turkey.
Russian and Syrian flags were flying from a building on the city outskirts, and from a convoy of military vehicles.
US forces announced they had pulled out of the city.
A week after reversing US policy and moving troops out of the way to allow Turkey to attack Washington’s Syrian allies, Trump announced a package of sanctions to punish Ankara.
But the measures — mainly a hike in steel tariffs and a pause in trade talks — were less robust than financial markets had expected, and Trump’s critics derided them as too feeble to have an impact.
The Turkish lira, which had fallen on the expectation of tougher US measures, recovered after the sanctions were announced, as did its bond and stock markets, with traders noting that Trump had spared Turkish banks.
Trump’s unexpected decision to withhold protection from Syria’s Kurds after a phone call with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan a week ago swiftly upended five years of US policy in the Middle East.
The withdrawal gives a free hand to Washington’s adversaries in the world’s deadliest ongoing war, namely Syrian President Bashar Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies.
The United States announced on Sunday it was withdrawing its entire force of 1,000 troops from northern Syria. Its former Kurdish allies immediately forged a new alliance with Assad’s Russia-backed government, inviting the army into towns across the breadth of their territory.
Russian-backed Syrian forces moved swiftly to fill the void left by departing Americans from Manbij west of the Euphrates river, which Turkey has vowed to capture.
“We are out of Manbij,” said Col. Myles B Caggins, spokesman for the US-led coalition in Syria. Troops “are executing a deliberate withdrawal from northeast Syria.”
A group of journalists accompanied by Syrian army personnel journeyed into Manbij city where upon their arrival a group of people gathered, waving the Syrian flag and pictures of Assad.
However the reporters left when gunfire was heard and a group of some 10 young men in Kurdish YPG uniforms began breaking cameras and yelling.
Syrian state media said SDF fighters had opened fire on a march organized by the people of Manbij to welcome the army.
Trump’s pullout ends joint US-Turkish patrols of the Manbij area under a deal aimed to persuade Turkey not to invade.
Syrian state television broadcast footage of what it said was government troops entering Manbij on Tuesday, under their new deal with the Kurds. A resident inside the city told Reuters the Syrian troops were on its outskirts. Turkey-backed Syrian fighters said they would continue their advance toward Manbij.
A Reuters cameraman on the Turkish frontier reported heavy bombardment on Tuesday morning of the Syrian border town of Ras Al-Ain, where a spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces reported a fierce battle was taking place.
Trump has defended his reversal of US policy as part of a plan to withdraw the United States from “endless” wars in the Middle East.
But his critics, including senior figures in his own Republican Party, cast it as a betrayal of the Kurds, loyal allies who lost thousands of fighters as the principal ground forces in Washington’s battle against Daesh.
The Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, said Trump’s sanctions were too little, too late.
“His announcement of a package of sanctions against Turkey falls very short of reversing that humanitarian disaster.”
Turkey says it aims to defeat the Kurdish YPG militia, which it sees as terrorists for their links to separatists in Turkey, and to create a “safe zone” where millions of Syrian refugees can be resettled.
The United Nations says 160,000 people have fled their homes as Turkish forces advance. The Kurdish administration puts the number of displaced at 270,000.
The UN Human Rights office said on Tuesday Turkey could be held responsible for war crimes by fighters under its direction, potentially including the assassination of Hevrin Khalaf, a leading Kurdish politician killed on the side of a highway on Saturday by gunmen who posted the incident on the Internet.
Turkish-backed fighters have denied blame for her murder.
Erdogan, who has pledged to continue military operations come what may, said Turkey was giving the world a chance to bring peace to the region.
“The international community missed its opportunity to prevent the Syrian crisis from pulling an entire region into a maelstrom of instability,” he wrote in the Wall Street Journal. “The European Union — and the world — should support what Turkey is trying to do.”
The Syrian army deployments into Kurdish-held territory evacuated by Washington are a victory for President Bashar Assad and his most powerful ally, Russia, giving them a foothold in the biggest remaining swath of the country that had been beyond their grasp.
Trump allies insisted Washington had not given its blessing to the Turkish offensive, and demanded a cease-fire.
“The United States of America simply is not going to tolerate Turkey’s invasion in Syria any further,” Vice President Mike Pence said. “We are calling on Turkey to stand down, end the violence and come to the negotiating table.”
Trump’s sanctions include reimposing steel tariffs and halting talks on a trade deal. But bilateral trade between Turkey and the United States is small — around a tenth the size of Turkey’s trade with Europe. Washington’s most effective form of economic leverage would be to hinder Turkey’s access to US financial markets, a step Trump has so far avoided.
“The sanctions are not related to banking, so the markets will have a positive perception,” said Cem Tozge, asset management director at Ata Invest.
In a potentially more damaging blow, German carmaker Volkswagen said it was postponing a final decision on whether to build a 1 billion euro ($1.1 billion) plant in Turkey, citing concern over “current developments” after international condemnation of the incursion.
European countries have criticized the offensive but have limited their response so far to announcing suspensions of arms sales, although weapons account for only a small fraction of EU-Turkish trade.
Trump said US troops would remain at a small garrison at Tanf in southern Syria “to continue to disrupt remnants” of Daesh. The base on the southern border is hundreds of miles away from the Kurdish area in the north that had previously been the main US theater.