Sudan and Ethiopia border clashes fuel wider tensions

Sudan and Ethiopia border clashes fuel wider tensions
Ethiopians, who fled the ongoing fighting in Tigray region, carry their belongings after crossing the Sudan-Ethiopia border, in Sudan’s Kassala state. (Reuters)
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Updated 17 March 2021

Sudan and Ethiopia border clashes fuel wider tensions

Sudan and Ethiopia border clashes fuel wider tensions
  • The territorial argument also comes amid the fallout from unrest in Ethiopia’s troubled Tigray region

KHARTOUM: A decades-old border dispute over fertile farmland between Sudan and Ethiopia is feeding regional rivalry and even sparking fears of broader conflict, analysts say.
The border quarrel is over Ethiopian farmers cultivating land claimed by Sudan — but it is also stoking wider tensions over Ethiopia’s Blue Nile mega-dam, which downriver Khartoum and Cairo view as a threat to their water supply.
The territorial argument also comes amid the fallout from unrest in Ethiopia’s troubled Tigray region, with tens of thousands of refugees having fled into Sudan.
Arguments over Al-Fashaqa, an agricultural area sandwiched between two rivers, where Ethiopia’s northern Amhara and Tigray regions meet Sudan’s eastern Gedaref state, date back decades.
With the zone contested, the exact area is not clear, but Al-Fashaqa covers some 12,000 square kilometers (4,630 square miles), an area claimed by both Sudan and Ethiopia.
But analysts and observers point to a flashpoint zone directly along the border, covering some 250 square kilometers (just under 100 square miles).
On paper, according to colonial-era treaties from 1902 and 1907, the international boundary runs east of Al-Fashaqa, meaning the land belongs to Sudan, according to Alex de Waal, a professor at Tufts University in the US and an expert on the region.
But on the ground, over the years, thousands of Ethiopian farmers have entered the region to cultivate land during the rainy season.
At times, Sudanese forces have sought to expel the farmers, only for them to return.
Tensions soared in 1995, according to analysts, when relations between Khartoum and Addis Ababa soured after a failed assassination attempt against Egypt’s then-president Hosni Mubarak while he was in Addis Ababa.
Ethiopia blamed Sudan for the attack, and then pushed into Al-Fashaqa, allowing its farmers to cultivate land there.
Since then, thousands of Ethiopian farmers have settled in the area, working the land and paying taxes to Ethiopian authorities.
Khartoum and Addis Ababa have held border talks over the years, but no clear demarcation lines were ever marked out.

BACKGROUND

On paper, according to colonial-era treaties from 1902 and 1907, the international boundary runs east of Al-Fashaqa, meaning the land belongs to Sudan. But on the ground, over the years, thousands of Ethiopian farmers have entered the region to cultivate land during the rainy season.

Al-Fashaqa lies close to Ethiopia’s troubled Tigray region, where deadly conflict erupted in November between Ethiopia’s federal and Tigray’s regional forces.
The fighting sent some 60,000 Ethiopian refugees fleeing into Sudan.
As violence in Ethiopia came closer, Khartoum sent troops into the Al-Fashaqa region, “to recapture the stolen lands and take up positions on the international lines,” Sudan’s state media reported.
“Authorities feared the situation in Tigray would slip out of control, and armed fighters infiltrate into the country,” Sudanese military expert Amin Ismail said.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has leaned heavily on security forces from his country’s Amhara region during the fighting in Tigray.
Amhara officials view Al-Fashaqa as rightfully theirs, and there are fears Abiy will struggle to keep expansionist elements in check.
In December, Khartoum dispatched reinforcements to Al-Fashaqa after “Ethiopian forces and militias” allegedly ambushed Sudanese troops, killing at least four soldiers.
Tensions escalated, although Addis Ababa sought to downplay the fighting.
A string of deadly clashes followed, with both sides trading accusations of violence and territorial violations.
Sudan has in recent weeks claimed to have regained control of large swathes of the region, insisting it had always fallen within its boundaries.
Meanwhile, Addis Ababa accused Khartoum of having “invaded land that is part of Ethiopia’s territory,” warning it would resort to a military response if needed.
Both Sudan and Ethiopia face their own domestic challenges, including economic woes and deadly conflicts.
Sudan is navigating a rocky transitional period following the April 2019 ouster of dictator Omar Al-Bashir.
Aside from Tigray, Ethiopia faces internal unrest including in the Benishangul-Gumuz and Oromia regions.
The border tensions have intensified strains in relations between Khartoum and Addis Ababa, who, along with Egypt, have failed to strike a deal over the filling and operation of Ethiopia’s Blue Nile mega-dam.
The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, set to be Africa’s largest hydroelectric project, has been a source of tension in the Nile basin ever since Ethiopia broke ground on it nearly a decade ago.
Sudan views the barrage as a threat to its own dams without a binding deal over the filling and operation of Ethiopia’s dam.
Khartoum is nowadays diplomatically close to Cairo. This month, top Egyptian and Sudanese army officials signed a deal on bilateral military cooperation.
Egypt, which depends on the Nile for about 97 percent of its irrigation and drinking water, sees the dam as an existential threat.
The border dispute is a local issue separate from the dam, but it feeds into wider politics.
Sudanese military expert Ismail believes Sudan and Ethiopia will have to find a diplomatic resolution to the border crisis, saying “there cannot be an all-out military confrontation.
“It is simply not in the interest of both countries,” Ismail said. “It will be a major risk for both sides.”


TankerTrackers says third tanker carrying fuel to Lebanon underway

TankerTrackers says third tanker carrying fuel to Lebanon underway
Updated 19 September 2021

TankerTrackers says third tanker carrying fuel to Lebanon underway

TankerTrackers says third tanker carrying fuel to Lebanon underway
  • The first tanker ship carried the fuel to Syria and from there it was taken into Lebanon on tanker trucks on Thursday
  • Mikati said on Friday the Iranian fuel shipments constitute a breach of Lebanon’s sovereignty

DUBAI: A third tanker has sailed from Iran carrying Iranian fuel for distribution in Lebanon, TankerTrackers.com reported on Twitter on Sunday.
Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati said on Friday the Iranian fuel shipments, imported by the Hezbollah movement, constitute a breach of Lebanon’s sovereignty.
The Iran-aligned group says the shipments should ease a crippling energy crisis in Lebanon.
The first tanker ship carried the fuel to Syria and from there it was taken into Lebanon on tanker trucks on Thursday.
Both Syria and Iran are under US sanctions.


Iran museums reopen after year-long COVID-19 break

Iran museums reopen after year-long COVID-19 break
Updated 19 September 2021

Iran museums reopen after year-long COVID-19 break

Iran museums reopen after year-long COVID-19 break
  • A country with a millennia-long history, Iran has an abundance of 746 museums
  • Iran’s museums attracted more than 21 million visitors in the year before the outbreak of COVID-19

TEHRAN: Iran reopened museums in Tehran and other cities Sunday after a more than year-long closure because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Museums in Tehran and other large cities that are no longer red-coded, meaning the risk of contracting the virus was very high, reopened on Sunday,” the director of Iran’s museums, Mohammad-Reza Kargar, said.
“Tourists and visitors are welcome to return while observing (sanitary) measures.”
A country with a millennia-long history, Iran has an abundance of 746 museums, including 170 in the capital.
“We are absolutely delighted, and we think the people are too because they were fed up with staying home, and visiting museums improves their mood,” Kargar said in his tourism and heritage ministry office.
“We have safety protocols in place of course, and the number of visitors will be dependent on the space at our sites so the public stays safe and healthy.”
Kargar said only students, researchers and staff were allowed into museums during the past 14 months.
Iran’s museums attracted more than 21 million visitors in the year before the outbreak of COVID-19 that forced museums to close in May 2020.
On Sunday, the National Museum of Iran with its magnificent collection of treasures dating back to the Bronze and Iron ages was still deserted.
“We have to wait for the news to spread and schools to reopen for people to come back,” explained Firouzeh Sepidnameh, head of the museum’s pre-Islamic collections.
Iran, the worst-hit country in the Middle East, has confirmed more than 5.4 million cases of coronavirus, including 117,000 deaths, according to figures issued Sunday by the health ministry.
Out of a population of 83 million, 29 million Iranians have received a first dose of vaccination and almost 14 million have been fully vaccinated against the virus.


UN ‘strongly condemns’ Houthi execution of 9 civilians

UN ‘strongly condemns’ Houthi execution of 9 civilians
Updated 19 September 2021

UN ‘strongly condemns’ Houthi execution of 9 civilians

UN ‘strongly condemns’ Houthi execution of 9 civilians
  • Secretary-General Antonio Guterres: Men shot in public did not receive fair trial
  • The US Embassy to Yemen also condemned the “brutal” executions and called for such “barbarism” to end

NEW YORK: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the Houthis on Sunday for executing nine civilians without a fair trial, one of whom was 15 at the time of detention.

Guterres’s spokesman said that the UN chief “deeply regrets” the Houthi executions and “strongly condemns these actions which are a result of judicial proceedings that do not appear to have fulfilled the requirements of fair trial and due process under international law.”

The nine men were shot in the back after they were forced to lie on the floor in public. They were charged with involvement in the killing of the Houthi leader Saleh Al-Samad in 2018 by an Arab Coalition air strike.

The group were accused of putting SIM cards in the pockets of Al-Samad’s guards, helping the coalition locate him.

Al-Samad, then president of the Houthi Supreme Political Council, was visiting Hodeidah in April 2018 to incite residents to join the war when the coalition hit his convoy, killing him along with six others, and inflicting a heavy blow to the Houthis.

Guterres said he opposes the use of the death penalty in all circumstances and reiterated that “international law sets stringent conditions for the application of the death penalty, including compliance with fair trial and due process standards as stipulated under international law.”

The UN chief called on all parties and authorities to adopt a moratorium on carrying out of the death penalty.

He also urged all everyine to cease violence in Yemen, and work with the UN to revive peace talks.

The US Embassy to Yemen also condemned the “brutal” executions and called for such “barbarism” to end.

Charge d'Affaires Cathy Westley said that “This outrageous action is another example of the Houthis indifference to basic human rights and follows only days after their attack on the commercial port of Mocha.”


UAE daily COVID-19 cases at lowest in over a year

UAE daily COVID-19 cases at lowest in over a year
Updated 19 September 2021

UAE daily COVID-19 cases at lowest in over a year

UAE daily COVID-19 cases at lowest in over a year
  • The UAE government earlier introduced a booster shot drive for fully vaccinated individuals

DUBAI: Daily coronavirus cases in the UAE were at their lowest in over a year on Sunday, with the Gulf state’s high vaccination rate among its population ensuring community immunity against the highly transmissible disease.

The Ministry of Health and Prevention  (MoHAP) confirmed that 391 people had tested positive in the last 24 hours, the lowest since Aug. 30 last year with 362 cases, as well as two deaths due to COVID-19 complications.

The number of people who have tested positive in the UAE since the pandemic started stands at 732,690 with 2,075 fatalities.

MoHAP earlier said 91.93 percent of its almost 10 million population have received at least a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine – one of the fastest vaccination campaigns in the world – while 81.08 percent of residents and citizens have been fully vaccinated.

The UAE government earlier introduced a booster shot drive for individuals who were inoculated particularly with the Sinopharm vaccine to increase immunity against the virus.

A total 19,412,656 doses have been administered so far, for a vaccine distribution rate equivalent to 196.28 doses per 100 people.

The continued decline in COVID-19 numbers in the UAE has prompted Abu Dhabi to lift COVID-19 testing requirements for residents before they are allowed entry into the emirate.

The COVID-19 checkpoint at the Abu Dhabi-Dubai was removed just after midnight on Sunday.

The decision follows the announcement of a decreased COVID-19 infection rate in the emirate of 0.2 percent of total tests and the activation of the green pass system to enter some public places, the Abu Dhabi Emergency, Crisis and Disasters Committee said in a statement.

The committee also approved home quarantine without the use of wristbands for international travellers and those in contact with positive cases.

COVID-19 positive individuals in the emirate are however still required to wear a wristband as part of monitoring to ensure compliance with precautionary measures.


Oman to open mosques for Friday prayers to those vaccinated

Oman to open mosques for Friday prayers to those vaccinated
Updated 19 September 2021

Oman to open mosques for Friday prayers to those vaccinated

Oman to open mosques for Friday prayers to those vaccinated
  • Those who meet the requirement can apply for a permit online to attend Friday prayers

DUBAI: Oman will allow people who received two doses of the covid-19 vaccine to perform Friday prayers at mosques from next month, the sultanate said Sunday. 

The country’s Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs that those who meet the requirement can apply for a permit online to attend Friday prayers. 

The ministry also said it will form a team of volunteers to verify that those entering the mosque have taken two doses of the coronavirus vaccine.

The mosques and its annexes will be operated at 50 percent of their capacity while maintaining social distancing will remain a must. Attendees will also be required to being their own prayer rug and wear a mask.