KHARTOUM: Ethiopia is building up its defenses along the western border with Sudan where a “national threat” is brewing, a government minister told a news briefing.
The build-up comes as Ethiopia begins the second phase of filling the reservoir of its controversial dam on the upper Blue Nile.
Ethiopia is pinning its hopes of economic development and power generation on the dam, but Egypt fears it will threaten its water supply from the Nile. Sudan is concerned about the dam’s safety and its own water flow.
“We are shifting our focus in terms of defense from the Tigray region and working on the redeployment of forces to our western border, where a national threat is brewing,” Redwan Hussein, state minister for foreign affairs, said at the joint briefing with top military official Lt. Gen. Bacha Debele.
The minister described the build-up as necessary after recent military exercises between Sudan and Egypt. Sudan has signed two agreements with Egypt on joint military cooperation and has conducted three exercises since November.
“The recent joint military drills near Ethiopia's border, among other things, is indicative of the need to get prepared for any eventualities along the western border,” Redwan said, adding that the country's $5 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) near the Sudan border was the reason for the joint military drills by Sudan and Egypt.
The capacity of the GERD reservoir is 70 billion cubic meters.
Egypt and Sudan say they fear the dam would reduce the flow of water downstream and affect their “historical water rights” under a water-sharing treaty the two countries signed in 1959 that gave Egypt 55.5 billion cubic meters (bcm) water and Sudan 18.5 bcm.
Sudanese Prime Minister Abdullah Hamdok said his government would work closely with neighboring countries and the international community to reach a resolution.
“Since the outbreak of the Ethiopian crisis, Sudan has been providing all facilities for humanitarian aid,” he tweeted. “The government affirms that it will continue to provide everything that would contribute to solving the humanitarian crisis in neighboring Ethiopia.”
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry slammed earlier comments from Debele that his country was prepared in the event of a “military solution” regarding the GERD dispute.
“We resort to international bodies and mechanisms, and this does not negate that we have the ability and determination to protect the interests of the Egyptian people,” Shoukry said before warning that, in the event of any hostility, Egypt was more than ready to defend its people.
Despite the Ethiopian statements of a military build-up, a source close to the Sudanese military establishment and strategic expert believed that the border deployment was being presented as a deceptive provocation.
“Ethiopia has to guard its western border due to its conflict in Tigray,” said Ret. Staff Maj. Gen. Amin Ismail Majzoub of the Sudanese Armed Forces. “It is clear that the Tigray war has taken a new paradigm. The Tigray forces now want to remove the government. The Sudanese position has been neutral since the war started in November and the Sudanese forces have secured the borders with their presence in the areas of greater and lesser El-Fashaga.
“Geographically, the majority of Sudan’s border with Ethiopia is with the Tigray region and the lesser part with the Amhara region. Therefore, we may see the war shifting into the Sudanese plains from the Ethiopian highlands in attempts for each side to outflank the other.”