Nile dam dispute poses a thorny challenge for Ethiopia and Egypt

Nile dam dispute poses a thorny challenge for Ethiopia and Egypt
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The Blue Nile river as it passes through the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) project, near Guba in Ethiopia, above. William Davison, below, a senior analyst on Ethiopian affairs with International Crisis Group. (AFP)
Nile dam dispute poses a thorny challenge for Ethiopia and Egypt
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Nile dam dispute poses a thorny challenge for Ethiopia and Egypt
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Nile dam dispute poses a thorny challenge for Ethiopia and Egypt
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A general view of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam near Guba in Ethiopia. (Photo by EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP)
Nile dam dispute poses a thorny challenge for Ethiopia and Egypt
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Nile dam dispute poses a thorny challenge for Ethiopia and Egypt
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An aerial view shows the River Nile before sunset in the Helwan suburb south of the Egyptian capital Cairo on June 20, 2020. (Photo by Khaled Desouki / AFP)
Nile dam dispute poses a thorny challenge for Ethiopia and Egypt
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Nile dam dispute poses a thorny challenge for Ethiopia and Egypt
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Updated 20 July 2020

Nile dam dispute poses a thorny challenge for Ethiopia and Egypt

Nile dam dispute poses a thorny challenge for Ethiopia and Egypt
  • Mini-African summit fixed for Tuesday in the latest effort to break protracted deadlock
  • Experts say disagreements run deeper than technical matters and the sharing of water

DUBAI: When Egyptian, Ethiopian and Sudanese officials meet to resolve their differences on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) that Addis Ababa is building on the Blue Nile, they instantly run into many thorny issues.

These disputes run deeper than technical matters and the sharing of water, experts and analysts say. Because they are also legal, historical and trust-related, a tripartite agreement has proved elusive. An eventual deal could take longer because major differences persist, mainly between Ethiopia and Egypt.

Officials from the three countries concluded two weeks of talks on July 13, supervised by the African Union (AU) and observed by US and European officials, but came no closer to an agreement. Officials were quoted as saying that the three countries would submit their final reports to the AU and that a mini-African summit would be held on Tuesday.




An aerial view shows the River Nile before sunset in the Helwan suburb south of the Egyptian capital Cairo on June 20, 2020. (Photo by Khaled Desouki / AFP)

The talks were the latest in a decade-long effort by the three African countries to resolve differences over the GERD. Ethiopia hopes the 6,000-megawatt dam will turn it into Africa’s top hydropower supplier. Egypt and Sudan fear the dam — being constructed less than 20 km from Ethiopia’s eastern border with Sudan — will substantially reduce their water share and affect development prospects.

While Addis Ababa insists the dam will benefit all Nile river basin states, the three countries are stymied by technical issues on how and when to fill the reservoir and how much water it should release, along with procedures for drought mitigation.

Experts and analysts from Africa and outside say the differences are fundamental and require sincerity. “Vital national interests are at stake, particularly on the Egyptian and Ethiopian sides,” said William Davison, a senior analyst on Ethiopian affairs with the Brussels-based International Crisis Group.

Ethiopia considers the project important for development and thus named it the “renaissance dam,” he said, adding: “It is also seen as vital to overcoming injustices from past treaties that excluded the country and denied it water allocations.”

Egypt, which relies heavily on the Nile for agriculture, industry and drinking water, worries that such a large dam will reduce water supplies “in a problematic way” in the future, Davison told Arab News from Addis Ababa.

Satellite images released recently showed water pouring into the reservoir, prompting Seleshi Bekele, the Ethiopian water minister, to assuage Egyptian anxieties by insisting that the process was the product of natural seasonal flooding and not direct action by the government.

Egyptian analysts say Ethiopia is ignoring its neighbors’ interests. “The talks have failed because of continuous Ethiopian obstinacy,” said Hani Raslan, an expert on African affairs at the Cairo-based Al-Ahram Center for Strategic and Political Studies. “Ethiopia has been buying time to impose a new reality on the ground . . . they don’t intend to reach an agreement.”

INNUMBERS

$4.8 billion Estimated cost of GERD.

15% Cost as share of Ethiopia’s 2012 GDP.

20,000 People in need of resettlement.

Source: International Rivers Organization

Other experts say that a positive attitude by the parties would help. “There is a tendency on each side to see the other in a more threatening manner, which I think is the key issue here,” said Mulugetta Ketema, managing director of the US-based Cogent International Solutions, a research and analysis center.

“Instead of starting negotiations based on who can dominate over which country or region, I think you should start by saying ‘How can we work together to utilize his river.’”

Ketema, who is Ethiopian-American, added: “I am sure everybody is doing their best, but there is a historical issue also at play here. For centuries Egypt and Sudan didn’t have anybody saying they could do this or that . . . they have been using the river for their own advantage.

“However, now the basin countries . . . are also growing and saying ‘Hey, we have to use or share something with our brothers and sisters up north and harvest the river.’ Apparently, this is where the problem starts.”

The Nile basin includes Ethiopia, Egypt, Sudan, Congo, Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, South Sudan and Sudan. Most were not part of the agreements signed during the British colonial years that gave Egypt and Sudan a big share of the Nile waters, Ketema said. Except for Ethiopia, those countries were under British control.

Apart from the legal differences over the term of references consultants use in their reports, drought mitigation remains a major obstacle. Egypt and Sudan seek Ethiopia’s commitment to a safe minimum release of water in dry seasons. Addis Ababa has been unwilling to do so, according to Davison.

“More recently, in the negotiations, there has been a series of legal disputes or disagreements. Sudan and Egypt would like a process of binding third-party arbitration as a last resort to resolve any future dispute (but) the Ethiopians . . . are not willing to sign up to that,” he told Arab News.

Ethiopia insists that Africa needs to solve African affairs. “Historically, Africans have been solving their own problems and did a better job than outside interference,” Ketema said. “Europeans and the UN tried to mediate in some issues, but it really never worked.” Should the AU fail to reach a solution on the GERD, other developing nations could extend their hands, he said.

To many Egyptian analysts, Ethiopia’s insistence on “African solutions” aims to “keep the negotiations going in a vicious circle until the dam is completely full and then there will be no meaning for negotiations,” Al-Ahram Center’s Raslan told Arab News.




A general view of the Blue Nile river as it passes through the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), near Guba in Ethiopia. (Photo by EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP)

“A practical solution is available already,” he said, referring to a US-drafted agreement that emerged from talks in Washington DC earlier this year. Egypt initialled the document, while Ethiopia declined.

The ministers agreed on a schedule for a staggered filling of the dam and mitigation mechanism, according to the document, but still needed to finalize details on safety and ways of handling future disputes. Praising Egypt’s readiness to sign the agreement, the US noted that Ethiopia sought internal consultations.

Davison said that the parties need to focus on specific disagreements on hydrological and legal issues “without being sidetracked by the current controversy over the act of filling (water) and . . . by the historical and geopolitical disagreements.”

“If the lawyers and engineers are allowed the space to reach a compromise on these technical issues, that will not solve everything,” he said.

“But that will allow some sort of agreement (so that) the parties can move on and build trust. Eventually, they will be able to address some of the large issues over water sharing and ultimately this historical rivalry over the river.”

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Twitter: @jumanaaltamimi

 


Three Armenian soldiers killed in clashes with Azerbaijan

Three Armenian soldiers killed in clashes with Azerbaijan
Updated 34 min 8 sec ago

Three Armenian soldiers killed in clashes with Azerbaijan

Three Armenian soldiers killed in clashes with Azerbaijan
  • In six weeks of fighting last September to November, Azeri troops drove ethnic Armenian forces out of swathes of territory they had controlled since the 1990s

MOSCOW: Three Armenian soldiers were killed in an exchange of gunfire with Azerbaijan forces, Armenia’s defense ministry said on Wednesday.
In six weeks of fighting last September to November, Azeri troops drove ethnic Armenian forces out of swathes of territory they had controlled since the 1990s in and around the Nagorno-Karabakh region, before Russia brokered a cease-fire.


Afghanistan and COVID-19 vaccines on the agenda as Blinken begins first India visit

Afghanistan and COVID-19 vaccines on the agenda as Blinken begins first India visit
Updated 28 July 2021

Afghanistan and COVID-19 vaccines on the agenda as Blinken begins first India visit

Afghanistan and COVID-19 vaccines on the agenda as Blinken begins first India visit
  • Top US diplomat to meet PM Narendra Modi on Wednesday

NEW DELHI: New Delhi is a priority for the US and Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s first visit to India on Tuesday will provide an opportunity to deepen bilateral ties, explore COVID-19 vaccine diplomacy, and discuss the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan, experts said.

“The visit is important in the larger context of the US-India relationship because it shows that there is a consistent engagement with India and India is a priority,” Harsh V. Pant, head of the Strategic Studies Programme at the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), told Arab News.

On Wednesday, Blinken is expected to hold talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.

“Both sides will review the robust and multifaceted India-US bilateral relations and potential for consolidating them further,” India’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement on July 23, announcing Blinken’s two-day visit.

It added that discussions would focus on “regional and global issues of mutual interest – including recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Indo-Pacific region, Afghanistan, and cooperation in the UN.”

Analysts said the visit could also lay the groundwork for an in-person summit of the Quad group of countries — comprising India, Japan, Australia and the US — likelyto be held in September and mainly aimed at drawing up measures to counter China’s rising influence in the Indo-Pacific region which, according to Pant, sent out a “larger message” about New Delhi’s role.

“We have seen the US secretary of defense coming to India earlier this year, we have seen (US President Joe) Biden calling the Quad leadership summit early on in his term, and now we have the secretary of state coming to India. I think there is a larger message about the Indo-US relationship and how important America sees India as a partner,” he said.

A virtual summit of the Quad group held in March created a working group on COVID-19 vaccine delivery, with India as the lead manufacturer committing to produce at least a billion vaccine doses by the end of 2022, mainly for southeast Asian and Pacific countries grappling with a spike in infections.

Blinken’s visit could create an opportunity to “bolster the global strategic partnership” between India and the US and focus on ways to support Afghanistan as the Taliban make rapid territorial gains amid a drawdown of US-led foreign troops from the country after 20 years of occupation.

Afghanistan’s deteriorating security situation saw India withdraw its staff from its consulates in Kandahar and Mazar-e-Sharif earlier this month.

“There are some apprehensions about the way things are moving in Afghanistan,” Pant added. “Therefore, from India’s perspective, it would be important to get a sense of what the American plan for Afghanistan is.”

Pranay Kotasthane, deputy director at the Takshashila Institution, said India’s primary concern would be to “deny space” in Afghanistan to “Pakistan-sponsored terrorist groups” and that there might be some discussions toward this goal.

On Monday, India said that it was also “willing to discuss” its human rights record if Blinken raised it during the bilateral talks.

“India has a plural tradition and multicultural society,” and it is willing to “discuss any human rights issue,” a source in the Indian government, who could not be identified under government policy, told Arab News.

It comes after Acting Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Dean Thompson told reporters in Washington D.C. on Friday that “the human rights and democracy question” would be part of the talks between Indian and US foreign ministers.

Since being elected to office in 2014, Modi and his government have faced allegations of suppressing dissent, pursuing divisive policies to appeal to Hindu voters, and enacting the Citizenship Amendment Law two years ago that Muslims see as discriminatory.

India’s human rights record became even more pronounced after the death in custody of 87-year-old Jesuit priest Stan Swamy, who was arrested on charges of supporting ultra-Maoists, while awaiting bail.

Pant said that bringing up the issue for talks reflected the “pressures” that Biden’s administration was under from various US constituencies.

“I think those who deal with India and the US know that historically India is cagey about including outsiders on domestic issues,” he added.


Thailand forest park gets World Heritage nod despite indigenous rights warning

Thailand forest park gets World Heritage nod despite indigenous rights warning
Updated 28 July 2021

Thailand forest park gets World Heritage nod despite indigenous rights warning

Thailand forest park gets World Heritage nod despite indigenous rights warning
  • “The indigenous Karen in the national park continue to be forcibly evicted and their houses burnt”

BANGKOK: A vast forest complex in Thailand has been added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List, despite the UN’s own experts warning of human rights violations against indigenous people in the area.

The Kaeng Krachan Forest Complex in western Thailand is rich in biodiversity, including the critically endangered Siamese crocodile, UNESCO said Monday in its listing announcement.

But it is also home to an indigenous community of ethnic Karen people, who have long accused the Thai government of using violence and harassment to push them off their land.

Thailand had lobbied for years to get World Heritage status for the complex, and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha praised UNESCO’s decision, vowing to protect the forest according to “international standards.”

“From now on, the government will ... restore the forest together and promote the livelihood development and human rights of locals,” he said in a Facebook post on Tuesday.

“Everyone will be part of co-management so they will feel a sense of ownership.”

United Nations experts last week urged the UNESCO committee to defer a decision until independent monitors have visited the area and the concerns about the indigenous people have been addressed.

“This is an important precedent-setting case, and may influence policies on how indigenous peoples’ rights are respected in protected areas across Asia,” the three experts said in a statement released Friday by the office of the UN Human Rights Commissioner.

“The indigenous Karen in the national park continue to be forcibly evicted and their houses burnt.”

They also said the World Heritage nomination process did not have effective participation of indigenous people, calling for indigenous people to be treated as partners in protecting the forest, not threats.

The park’s listing dismayed activist Pongsak Tonnamphet, an indigenous resident of the area.

“The decision was not made based on basic human rights principles ... the minority had no chance to speak,” the 24-year-old told AFP on Tuesday.

The World Heritage Committee did not list the park in 2016 and 2019 because of rights concerns.

The dispute has been simmering for decades.

While many indigenous residents were allegedly driven out of the area, those remaining were not allowed to cultivate the land.

Authorities say their farming activities would damage the forest, but activists argue that traditional farming methods do not harm the environment.

Rights campaigners have accused Thai officials of using harassment and violence to force indigenous people out.

The charred bones of a high-profile ethnic Karen leader were found inside the park in 2019, five years after he disappeared, according to Thai investigators.

Park officials at the time were the last to see him alive, but serious charges including premeditated murder were dropped in early 2020, with authorities citing a lack of evidence.

Ahead of the decision, an indigenous rights group held a protest in front of the environment ministry in Bangkok on Monday, flinging red paint at its signage.

Located near the border with Myanmar, the Kaeng Krachan complex is spread over more than 480,000 hectares, and includes three national parks and a wildlife sanctuary.


Attackers kill five soldiers, one civilian in north Cameroon, say officials

Attackers kill five soldiers, one civilian in north Cameroon, say officials
Updated 27 July 2021

Attackers kill five soldiers, one civilian in north Cameroon, say officials

Attackers kill five soldiers, one civilian in north Cameroon, say officials
  • Boko Haram attack kills five Cameroonian soldiers and a civilian
  • The attack happened during a raid on the military outpost in the country’s far north, local authorities said

YAOUNDE: An attack by Boko Haram killed five Cameroonian soldiers and a civilian, according to a defense ministry statement on state radio Tuesday.
The attack took place on Monday night in the far north of the central African country near the border with Nigeria, where operations by the Islamist group have been on the rise, reported AFP.
Meanwhile, Reuters said the attack happened during a raid on the military outpost in the country’s far north, local authorities said on Tuesday, the second deadly raid in the area in the past week.
An army post in the village of Zigue was attacked at around 9 p.m. (20:00 GMT) on Monday, according to two officials who asked not to be identified.
The attack follows a raid that took place around 50 km (30 miles) north of Zigue on Saturday, which was claimed by Daesh. Eight soldiers were killed in that raid, according to the defense ministry.
Cameroon, alongside neighboring Nigeria and Chad, has been battling the Boko Haram militant group for years, but more recently has clashed with fighters who identify themselves as Daesh West African Province (DWAP).
In the aftermath of the death of Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau in May, DWAP has sought to absorb Boko Haram fighters and unify the groups which had hitherto fought one another for control of territory.

With AFP and Reuters.


Iranian prosecutor charged with war crimes

Iranian prosecutor charged with war crimes
Updated 28 July 2021

Iranian prosecutor charged with war crimes

Iranian prosecutor charged with war crimes
  • The victims were linked to the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, a political organization

JEDDAH: A former Iranian prosecutor was charged on Tuesday with war crimes and murder over the execution of more than 100 political prisoners in Iran in 1988.

Hamid Noury, 60, has been under arrest in Sweden since 2019, when he was detained at Stockholm airport as he arrived to visit relatives.

Human rights groups have been campaigning for years for justice over the extrajudicial execution of thousands of Iranians, mostly young people, in the late 1980s. 

The victims were linked to the People’s Mujahedin of Iran, a political organization that seeks to overthrow Iran’s ruling clerics.

In the summer of 1988, Supreme Leader Ali Khomeini “issued an order to execute all prisoners held in Iranian prisons who sympathized with and were loyal in their convictions to the Mujahedin,” Swedish prosecutors said on Tuesday. 

At the time, Noury was an assistant prosecutor at Gohardasht Prison on the outskirts of Karaj, west of Tehran.

Noury “is suspected of participating … in these mass executions and, as such, intentionally taking the lives of a large number of prisoners who sympathized with the Mujahedin and, additionally, of subjecting prisoners to severe suffering which is deemed torture and inhuman treatment,” prosecutor Kristina Lindhoff Carleson said.

Noury’s trial begins on Aug. 10 in Stockholm and is expected to last about eight months. It is likely to be embarrassing for Iran, where rights groups say many officials involved in the extrajudicial killings in the 1980s are still in positions of power.

They include the newly elected president, Ebrahim Raisi, who Amnesty International says played a key role as a prosecutor on the “death commission” that sent thousands of prisoners to be killed.