Defying Egypt And Sudan, Ethiopia Hits Second-Year Target For Filling Nile Mega-Dam

(FILES) In this file photo taken on December 26, 2019, a worker goes down a construction ladder at the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), near Guba in Ethiopia. (Photo by EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP)

 

Ethiopia said Monday it had attained its second-year target for filling a mega-dam on the Blue Nile River that has stoked tensions with downstream countries Egypt and Sudan.

“The first filling already was done last year. The second one is already done today. So today or tomorrow, second filling will be announced,” an official told AFP, adding there is now enough water stored to begin producing energy.

Water Minister Seleshi Bekele later confirmed the milestone, which officials had earlier predicted would come in August.

In a post on Twitter, he attributed the accelerated timeline to “extreme rainfall” in the Blue Nile basin.

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) has been at the centre of a regional dispute ever since Ethiopia broke ground on the project in 2011.

Egypt and Sudan view the dam as a threat because of their dependence on Nile waters, while Ethiopia deems it essential for its electrification and development.

Talks held under the auspices of the African Union (AU) have failed to yield a three-way agreement on the dam’s filling and operations, and Cairo and Khartoum have demanded Addis Ababa cease filling the massive reservoir until such a deal is reached.

But Ethiopian officials have argued that filling is a natural part of the dam’s construction process and cannot be stopped.

Energy generation

The UN Security Council met earlier this month to discuss the project, although Ethiopia later slammed the session as an “unhelpful” distraction from the AU-led process.

Egypt claims a historic right to the Nile dating from a 1929 treaty that gave it veto power over construction projects along the river.

A 1959 treaty boosted Egypt’s allocation to around 66 percent of the river’s flow, with 22 percent for Sudan.

Yet Ethiopia was not party to those treaties and does not see them as valid.

In 2010 Nile basin countries, excluding Egypt and Sudan, signed another deal, the Cooperative Framework Agreement, that allows projects on the river without Cairo’s agreement.

The Nile’s main tributaries, the Blue Nile and White Nile, converge in Khartoum before flowing north through Egypt to drain into the Mediterranean Sea.

The process of filling the GERD’s reservoir began last year, with Ethiopia announcing in July 2020 it had hit its target of 4.9 billion cubic metres.

The goal for this year’s rainy season — which had been announced before the first cycle was completed — was to add 13.5 billion cubic metres. The reservoir’s capacity is 74 billion.

With the second-year target hit, the dam can run the first two of its 13 turbines, Seleshi said Monday on Twitter.

“Intensive efforts are being made for the two turbines to generate energy,” Seleshi said, adding that “early generation” could be realised “in the next few months.”

‘National symbol’

The $4.2-billion dam is ultimately expected to produce more than 5,000 megawatts of electricity, making it Africa’s biggest hydroelectric dam and more than doubling Ethiopia’s electricity output.

Ethiopia had initially planned output of around 6,500 megawatts but later reduced its target.

The first two turbines should produce 750 megawatts of electricity, increasing national output by roughly 20 percent, said Addisu Lashitew of the Brookings Institution in Washington.

It is “a significant amount” for an economy that frequently faces power shortages and is sometimes hobbled by power rationing, he said.

The milestone would also have “political implications” for a country going through “a very difficult time” in no small part because of the eight-month-old war in its northern Tigray region, Addisu said.

“The dam is seen as a national symbol, a unifying symbol. It’s one of the very few things that bring together people from all walks of life in Ethiopia,” he said.

“Definitely the government will try to extract some political value from the second filling.”

AFP

Sudan Inflation Soars Above 400% As Discontent Grows

A woman sells spices in the market in the city of Humera, in the northern Tigray Region, the last Ethiopian city south of the border with Eritrea and Sudan on July 11, 2021. (Photo by EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP)

 

Inflation in Sudan has jumped to more than 400 percent, state media reported on Sunday amid popular discontent over rising prices after a series of IMF-backed economic reforms.

“The annual inflation reached 412.75 percent in June, compared with 378.79 percent in May,” the official news agency SUNA reported, quoting a government statement.

SUNA said the latest spike in the inflation rate was because of price hikes including on food.

Sudan has been going through a rocky transition since the April 2019 ouster of president Omar al-Bashir following mass protests against his rule triggered by economic hardship.

The transitional government installed in August 2019 has vowed to fix the economy which has been battered by decades of US sanctions and mismanagement under Bashir.

In recent months, Sudan scrapped diesel and petrol subsidies and carried out a managed float of the Sudanese pound to stem a rampant black market.

The measures, seen by many Sudanese as harsh, were part of reforms backed by the International Monetary Fund to enable Sudan to qualify for debt relief.

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On Friday the Paris Club, Sudan’s biggest creditor, said it would cancel much of the debt owed to it by Sudan to help draw Khartoum back into the international fold.

That announcement came as part of a wider effort by the IMF to relieve more than $50 billion of Sudan’s debt, around 90 percent of its total, over the next few years.

Late last month, hundreds of people took to the streets in the capital and in other cities across Sudan to demand the government’s resignation over the latest reforms.

AFP

Explosion In Sudan Port City Kills Four As Tensions Rise

West Darfur State is one of the states of Sudan, and one of five comprising the Darfur region.
West Darfur State is one of the states of Sudan, and one of five comprising the Darfur region.

 

An explosion has killed four people in a Sudanese Red Sea port city, officials said Sunday, the latest in a series of violent incidents in the area.

Tensions have been simmering in recent days in Port Sudan where anti-government protesters have reportedly blocked roads over rising insecurity.

Local media have linked the unrest to rejection by the Hedendoa tribe of an October peace deal between rebel groups and the Sudanese government.

Hadendoa, the largest subdivision of the Beja people in the region, fear their tribe will be under-represented in regional legislative and executive bodies under the Juba agreement.

Saturday’s blast took place late in the evening at a busy sporting club in Port Sudan, the provincial capital of the Red Sea state, and also involved an armed attack.

“An explosive device went off at Al-Amir club… killing four people,” the Central Committee of Sudan Doctors said in a statement.

Three others were wounded after being shot or stabbed, it added.

Witnesses said the attack was carried out by unidentified armed men on a motorcycle but it was not immediately clear what motivated it.

Authorities in the Red Sea state said in a Sunday statement that one of the perpetrators had been arrested.

Dozens of people later gathered outside the public prosecutor’s office in Port Sudan demand the assailants be brought to justice, witnesses said.

Saturday’s explosion was the latest in a series of violent incidents in Port Sudan, including an attack Friday by unidentified assailants on security forces.

On Saturday a man was killed during a fight on a public bus and that same day there was a failed bid to attack a hotel with explosive, authorities said.

A government statement said that five people were killed on Saturday alone, while six others were wounded in recent unrest.

The doctors’ committee, an independent union of medics, blamed “tribal strife” for the violence and urged security forces to step in.

Sudan has been led by a transitional civilian-military administration following the April 2019 ouster of Islamist president Omar al-Bashir, who ruled Sudan with an iron fist for 30 years.

The country has since been undergoing a rocky period marked by a wrenching economic crisis and deepening political division.

AFP

Two Killed In Sudan Rally Over 2019 Protest Killings

Demonstrators gather outside the army headquarters in Sudan’s capital Khartoum on May 11, 2021 which corresponds to Ramadan 29, on the hijri-date anniversary of the killing of Sudanese protesters during a raid on an anti-government sit-in in 2019.  (Photo by ASHRAF SHAZLY / AFP)

 

Two people were killed and dozens wounded as Sudanese security forces dispersed a rally demanding justice for protesters killed during anti-government demonstrations two years ago, the army said Wednesday.

Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok said he was “shocked” by the killings, calling it a “crime to use live bullets against peaceful protesters”.

Hundreds gathered on Tuesday evening outside the army headquarters in the capital Khartoum, at the site where thousands gathered in 2019 initially demanding the ouster of president Omar al-Bashir and urging a transfer to civilian rule.

The demonstration on Tuesday started shortly before iftar, the evening meal which breaks the fast during the holy month of Ramadan.

It marked two years since the bloody dispersal of the mass encampment outside the army headquarters.

“As they (the protesters) left the site, unfortunate events occurred resulting in the killing of two people and the wounding of others,” the armed forces said in a statement, adding that an investigation had been launched.

The army said they were “fully prepared to bring to justice, whoever is proven to be involved”.

On Wednesday, the US embassy in Khartoum expressed “shock and dismay” over Tuesday’s killings.

“We condemn use of live ammunition on peaceful protesters,” it said on Twitter, calling on Khartoum to “fully investigate and bring to justice the perpetrators”.

– ‘Calling for justice’ –

In the protests on Tuesday, young demonstrators were seen carrying banners and photos of the people killed during the crackdown on the 2019 sit-in, according to an AFP correspondent.

“Retribution for the martyrs,” many chanted, as they waved Sudanese flags.

“We will continue calling for justice,” said protester Samar Hassan.

One protester gave a speech calling for further demonstrations, if the government failed to present the findings of an investigation into the 2019 killings in the coming weeks.

Witnesses said security forces fired tear gas to disperse the protesters.

Ahead of Tuesday’s gathering, Sudanese authorities set up roadblocks on the routes leading to the army headquarters.

Hamdok, in a statement on Twitter, called the 2019 crackdown “extreme brutality”.

He vowed his transitional government, which took power after Bashir’s ouster, would “bring perpetrators to justice”.

The 2019 sit-in was held to call for an end to Bashir’s three-decade rule.

The iron-fisted ruler was ousted in April 2019, but the protesters kept up the encampment for weeks demanding the transfer of power from the military to civilians.

In June 2019 and towards the end of Ramadan, armed men in military fatigues violently dispersed the camp.

The days-long crackdown left at least 128 people dead, according to medics linked to the protest movement.

The ruling generals at the time denied ordering the bloody dispersal and called for a probe into the incident.

An investigation committee was launched in late 2019 to look into the events, but has yet to finish its inquiry.

AFP

120 Ethiopia Ex-Peacekeepers Seek Asylum In Sudan, Says UN

In this file photo, The United Nations flag is seen during the Climate Action Summit 2019 at the United Nations General Assembly Hall on September 23, 2019, in New York City. Ludovic MARIN / AFP.

 

Around 120 former peacekeepers from Ethiopia, where several regions including northern Tigray are hit by inter-ethnic conflict, have sought asylum in Sudan, the United Nations said Sunday.

The personnel were due to be repatriated on the back of the phased withdrawal of the UN peacekeeping mission, UNAMID, from western Sudan’s Darfur region after its mandate ended on December 31.

“As of now, 120 former UNAMID peacekeepers who were due to be repatriated have sought international protection,” a UN peacekeeping spokesperson told AFP via email.

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, also confirmed the former peacekeepers have applied for asylum in Sudan.

They “will be taken to a location where they can be safely undertaken for their refugee status to be determined,” it said without elaborating, due to “protection purposes”.

It was not immediately clear whether all the former peacekeepers seeking asylum originated from Ethiopia’s Tigray region.

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The Tigray conflict broke out last November between Ethiopia’s federal forces and leaders of the region’s ruling party, leaving thousands killed.

The fighting sent some 60,000 refugees fleeing into neighbouring Sudan, a nation struggling with economic woes and a rocky transition since the April 2019 ouster of strongman Omar al-Bashir.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, is also grappling with ethnic violence in other regions including Amhara, Oromia and Benishangul-Gumuz.

UNAMID, deployed in Darfur since 2007, in January began a phased withdrawal of its about 8,000 armed and civilian personnel, to be completed within six months.

Darfur was the scene of a bitter conflict between ethnic African minority rebels, complaining of marginalisation, against Bashir’s Arab-dominated government in Khartoum.

The fighting killed some 300,000 people and displaced 2.5 million, according to the UN.

AFP

AFCON 2021: South Africa Eliminated After Losing In Sudan

South African national football team ahead of their 2022 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifying match against Ghana at FNB Stadium in Johannesburg on March 25, 2021. (Photo by Phill Magakoe / AFP)

 

South Africa failed to qualify for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations after losing 2-0 to Sudan Sunday in a final-round Group C match in Omdurman.

Saifeldin Malik gave the hosts a fifth-minute lead in a clash of former African champions by heading past goalkeeper Ronwen Williams off a free- kick.

Mohammed Abdelrahman doubled the lead on 31 minutes, taking advantage of hesitancy by captain Thulani Hlatshwayo before firing past Williams at his near post.

South Africa coach Molefi Ntseki took off star forward Percy Tau just past the hour and surprisingly replaced him with a defender, Sifiso Hlanti, given the desperate need for goals.

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Ghana defeated Sao Tome e Principe 3-1 in Accra in a match played at the same time to finish first with 13 points, followed by Sudan (12), South Africa (10) and Sao Tome (0).

South Africa have gradually faded as a Cup of Nations force after hosting and winning the competition in 1996 and finishing second and third in the following two editions.

Failure to qualify for the 2021 tournament in Cameroon means Bafana Bafana (The Boys) will miss the finals of the marquee African national team competition for the fourth time in seven editions.

Earlier, Tunisia beat Equatorial Guinea 2-1 in Rades in a match between countries who had already qualified from Group J while Tanzania edged Libya 1-0 in Dar es Salaam in the same section.

Guinea, who secured a place at the 24-team tournament earlier this week, surrendered an unbeaten Group A record when losing 2-1 to Namibia in Windhoek.

This Week In Pictures: 13-19 March, 2021

A protester holds onto the shirt of a fallen comrade, during a crackdown by security forces on demonstrations against the military coup, in Hlaing Tharyar township in Yangon on March 14, 2021. (Photo by STR / AFP)

 

A selection of the week’s news photos from across the world.

From the violence during the protests in Myanmar, the very first female President of Tanzania, immigrants expelled from the United States and the enduring impact of COVID-19: these are our selection of striking news images from around the world this week.

 

A boy splashes himself with water in the Atbarah river near the village of Dukouli within the Quraysha locality, located in the Fashaqa al-Sughra agricultural region of Sudan’s eastern Gedaref state on March 16, 2021. (Photo by ASHRAF SHAZLY / AFP)

 

New Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan sits on a chair after swearing-in ceremony as the country’s first female President after the sudden death of President John Magufuli at statehouse in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on March 19, 2021. (Photo by STR / AFP)

 

 

An intubated COVID-19 coronavirus disease patient receives an injection while lying in an intensive care unit (ICU) of Dura Public Hospital in the village of Dura, west of Hebron in the occupied West Bank on March 16, 2021. (Photo by HAZEM BADER / AFP)

 

Personnel of The Tanzania People’s Defence Force (TPDF) carry the coffin of fifth Tanzanian president John Magufuli during the national funeral at Uhuru Stadium in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on March 20, 2021. (Photo by STR / AFP)

 

An Iranian releases a lantern in Tehran on March 16, 2021 during the Wednesday Fire feast, or Chaharshanbeh Soori, held annually on the last Wednesday eve before the Spring holiday of Nowruz.(Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP)

 

Toure, a Gambian salt harvester, holds a basket filled with the salt collected from the crust of the bottom of the Lake Retba (Pink Lake) in Senegal on March 16, 2021.  (Photo by MARCO LONGARI / AFP)

 

Jordanian security forces disperse a protest in Amman on March 15, 2021 over measures imposed by authorities to curb the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus. (Photo by Khalil MAZRAAWI / AFP)

 

Women cry as attendees mourn the death of the coffin of fifth Tanzanian president John Magufuli during the national funeral at Uhuru Stadium in Dar es Salaam on March 20, 2021.  (Photo by STR / AFP)

 

The stupa of the Buddhist temple Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn) is illuminated in green to mark St. Patrick’s Day in Bangkok on March 17, 2021. (Photo by Mladen ANTONOV / AFP)

 

Dozens of Central American migrants are expelled from the United States by the Paso del Norte-Santa Fe international bridge, from El Paso, Texas, United States to Ciudad Juarez, state of Chihuahua, Mexico, on March 18, 2021 (Photo by HERIKA MARTINEZ / AFP)

 

Baikal, a 14-year-old Siberian tiger, undergoes a dental surgery to cure an infection, at the Mulhouse Zoological and Botanical Park on March 17, 2021. (Photo by SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP)

 

A man reads a newspaper with a headline announcing the death of Tanzania’s President John Magufuli in Dar es Salaam, on March 18, 2021.  (Photo by – / AFP)

 

EDITORS NOTE: Graphic content / Protesters carry a wounded man shot with live rounds by security forces during a crackdown on demonstrations against the military coup in Yangon on March 17, 2021. (Photo by STR / AFP)

 

An aerial picture shows Syrians waving the opposition flag during a gathering in the rebel-held city of Idlib on March 15, 2021, as they mark ten years since the nationwide anti-government protests that sparked the country’s devastating civil war.(Photo by Omar HAJ KADOUR / AFP)

 

Images of Covid-19 Victims are projected over the Brooklyn bridge as the city commemorates a Covid-19 Day of Remembrance in Brooklyn, New York on March 14, 2021. (Photo by Kena Betancur / AFP)

 

Medical staff use a gurney to transport from a medical SAMU helicopter a patient evacuated from another hospital, at the CHU -Universitary Hospital- in Angers, March 15, 2021, amid the outbreak of the Covid-19 caused by the new Coronavirus. (Photo by LOIC VENANCE / AFP)

 

A COVID-19 patient arrives by ambulance at a public hospital in Brasilia, Brazil, on March 15, 2021 amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by EVARISTO SA / AFP)

 

 

A man wearing a costume of the StarWars protagonist Din Djarin poses in front of a giant replica of the Razor Crest, a gunship from the StarWars spinoff series “The Mandalorian” used by the hit TV show’s mysterious bounty hunter to roam the galaxy’s outer reaches, in a park of the eastern Siberian city of Yakutsk on March 14, 2021. (Photo by Evgeniy SOFRONEYEV / AFP)

 

 

Well-wishers turn on their phone torches as they gather at a band-stand where a planned vigil in honour of alleged murder victim Sarah Everard was cancelled after police outlawed it due to Covid-19 restrictions, on Clapham Common, south London on March 13, 2021. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP)

 

Dutch anti-riot police officers detain a man during a demonstration against the government and anti-covid measures at the Malieveld in The Hague on March 14, 2021.  (Photo by JOHN THYS / AFP)

 

Strong winds and high waves hit the coast on March 13, 2021 in Plobannalec-Lesconil, western France. (Photo by Fred TANNEAU / AFP)

 

Attendees react during the national funeral of fifth Tanzanian president John Magufuli at Uhuru Stadium in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on March 20, 2021. – (Photo by STR / AFP)

 

A protester holds onto the shirt of a fallen comrade, during a crackdown by security forces on demonstrations against the military coup, in Hlaing Tharyar township in Yangon on March 14, 2021. (Photo by STR / AFP)

 

This picture taken on March 13, 2021, shows artist Sergei Pakhomov performing inside a wooden structure ‘Corona Tower’ during celebrations of Maslenitsa, the eastern Slavic Shrovetide in the village of Nikola-Lenivets.  (Photo by Dimitar DILKOFF / AFP)

 

 

 

Sudan Shifts To Managed Currency Float Amid Economic Crisis

West Darfur State is one of the states of Sudan, and one of five comprising the Darfur region.
West Darfur State is one of the states of Sudan, and one of five comprising the Darfur region.

 

Sudan announced Sunday it was ditching its fixed exchange rate and adopting a managed float, in line with an IMF programme but at the risk of fanning already-smouldering discontent.

The move aims to stem a flourishing black market that has seen the local pound recently trade at around 400 to the dollar, while the official rate was fixed at 55 pounds to the greenback.

It is expected to substantially devalue the official exchange rate towards black market levels, sending prices higher even as citizens grapple with an inflation rate that topped 300 percent last month.

The transitional government has decided to undertake policies “aimed at reforming and unifying the exchange rate system by applying a managed flexible exchange rate system,” the central bank said in a statement.

Closing the yawning gap between the official and black market exchange rates is central to a reform programme agreed with the International Monetary Fund last year.

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The central bank said its policy shift, which follows the recent appointment of a new cabinet tasked with tackling the economic crisis, is “imperative” to help achieve stability.

It is one of several painful IMF mandated reforms, which also include reducing costly subsidies, aimed at securing debt relief and attracting investment following the April 2019 ouster of autocrat Omar al-Bashir.

Newly-appointed finance minister Gibril Ibrahim urged citizens to tolerate the impact of the policy change, saying in a press conference on Sunday that it “will require a high patriotic spirit” and “cooperation”.

Ominously for Sudan’s transitional authorities, protests have already flared in recent weeks in several areas over the skyrocketing prices, alongside bread and medicine shortages.

Sudan’s economy was decimated by decades of US sanctions under Bashir, mismanagement and civil war, as well as oil-rich South Sudan’s 2011 secession.

– Cushioning the blow –

The finance minister and the central bank governor, Mohamed al-Fatih, said the exchange rate policy shift will be cushioned by international donors financing a project aimed at supporting poor families from Monday.

The programme offers $5 dollars per month each to around 80 percent of the country’s 45 million population.

In January, the IMF said it was “working very intensively” with Sudan to build the preconditions for debt relief.

The US recently removed Sudan from its state sponsors of terrorism blacklist, another move Khartoum hopes will unlock debt relief and aid.

The central bank governor said Sudan has begun applying a dual banking system, instead of solely Islamic banking, in a move allowing international banks to operate in the country.

The exchange rate policy shift comes amid concern that Sudan’s level of foreign currency holdings are approaching exhaustion.

If the central bank is to be successful in drawing transactions away from the black market, then reserves need to stand at around $5 billion, Mohamed el-Nayer, a Sudanese economist, told AFP.

Authorities have not lately disclosed the level of reserves.

Asked if the country had enough reserves, the Ibrahim replied that funds had lately been received, but did not specify the origin or amount.

But the recent bread shortages — and also of fuel — point to the possibility of “severely lacking” foreign reserves, the economist Nayer said.

Bashir’s fall nearly two years ago came after months of protests against his autocratic rule that were triggered by his cash strapped government effectively trebling bread prices.

In October, Sudan signed a peace deal with rebel groups that observers hoped would end long-running conflicts in the country’s far-flung regions.

Last month, the government approved this year’s budget and it is aiming for inflation of 95 percent by end-2021.

Israel Hails New First In Relations With Sudan

West Darfur State is one of the states of Sudan, and one of five comprising the Darfur region.
West Darfur State is one of the states of Sudan, and one of five comprising the Darfur region.

 

Israeli Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen has led a delegation to Khartoum, a spokesman said Tuesday, months after Sudan and the Jewish state struck a deal to normalise ties.

The Monday visit marked the first time an Israeli minister headed a delegation to the African state, Cohen’s office said.

Sudanese state media did not report the visit.

The Israeli intelligence ministry said members of the delegation met head of state General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and Defence Minister Yassin Ibrahim for talks on “diplomatic, security and economic issues”.

“A first-ever memorandum on these topics was signed between the Sudanese defence minister and Cohen,” it said.

The sides also discussed “deepening intelligence cooperation”.

“The Sudanese authorities briefed the Israeli delegation on their progress on cancelling the law boycotting Israel, and amending the law imprisoning Sudanese migrants, including to Israel, who return to Sudan,” the ministry added.

Sudan agreed to normalise ties with Israel in October last year and an Israeli delegation visited Khartoum the following month.

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On January 6, Sudan signed the “Abraham Accords” normalising ties with Israel, making it the third Arab country to do so after the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain last year.

Morocco also normalised its ties with Israel in December.

Khartoum signed the accords less than a month after Washington removed it from its “state sponsors of terrorism” blacklist as part of a quid pro quo.

But protests against normalisation have continued in Sudan. On January 17, dozens of protesters gathered outside the cabinet office in Khartoum and burned the Israeli flag.

Until last year, Egypt and Jordan were the only Arab countries to have recognised Israel, in bilateral peace deals struck decades ago.

Other Arab governments refused to normalise relations until Israel reached a comprehensive peace agreement with the Palestinians and its other neighbours.

Cohen said his visit to Khartoum “laid the foundations for many important collaborations that will help Israel and Sudan, boost regional stability, deepen our ties with Africa and lead to more agreements with states in the region”.

UN, AU End Peacekeeping Mission In Darfur

Sudanese children walk past an armoured vehicle of the United Nations and African Union peacekeeping mission (UNAMID) in Kalma Camp for internally displaced people in Nyala, the capital of South Darfur, on December 30, 2020.

 

The United Nations-African Union mission in Darfur is set to end 13 years of peacekeeping in the vast Sudanese region on Thursday, even as recent violent clashes leave residents fearful of new conflict.

Fighting erupted in Darfur in 2003, when ethnic minority rebels rose up against the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum, which responded by recruiting and arming notorious Arab-dominated militia known as the Janjaweed.

A total of 300,000 people were killed and 2.5 million displaced, according to the United Nations.

“The last day for UNAMID is tonight at midnight,” said UNAMID’s team leader in Darfur office Islam Khan. “UNAMID will not have any protection mandate after December 31, 2020.”

The mission said the Sudanese government “will take over responsibility for the protection of civilians in the area.”

Darfur’s bitter conflict has largely subsided in recent years and longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir — wanted by the International Criminal Court for genocide and other alleged crimes in the western region — was deposed last year.

But the country’s transitional government is fragile, and ethnic and tribal clashes still periodically flare, including clashes last week that left at least 15 people dead and dozens wounded.

Darfuris, many of whom remain in teeming camps years after they fled their homes, have held protests in recent weeks against the mission’s imminent departure.

“The lives of Darfuri people are at stake, and the United Nations should reconsider its decision,” Mohamed Abdelrahman told AFP on Wednesday at Kalma camp in Nyala, the capital of South Darfur.

He is among hundreds who staged a sit-in outside the mission’s headquarters at the camp.

‘Big trouble’ ahead

Protesters held up banners reading: “We trust UN protection for IDPs (internally displaced people),” and “we reject UNAMID’s exit.”

The UN said that the phased withdrawal of the mission’s approximately 8,000 armed and civilian personnel will begin in January and be completed inside six months.

Longtime Kalma resident Othman Abulkassem fears the troops’ departure signals “big trouble” for Darfuris, leaving them at risk of further violence.

UNAMID spokesman Ashraf Eissa sought to allay those fears.

“We understand the concerns of the Darfuri population especially IDPs and other vulnerable groups, but the situation has improved a great deal over the past few years,” Eissa told AFP.

“The responsibility now lies with the transitional government and the Sudanese people themselves to enhance peace and security in Darfur.”

A UN political mission — the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS) — will be installed in Darfur after UNAMID’s departure.

It will be tasked with assisting Sudan’s transition, peace-building, and aid disbursement.

Following last week’s clashes, Sudanese authorities said government troops will be deployed to the region to contain any violence.

On Thursday, acting foreign minister Omar Qamareddine said UNAMID “contributed to acheiving peace.”

“It’s true that its tenure was marred by some obstacles but it was, overall, good,” the minister told a Khartoum press conference, adding that the deployment of government troops across the region will be completed by March.

But many are sceptical.

“If the protection of internally displaced people is assigned to the government forces, it will be like handing Darfuris to the forces that committed massacres and rape against them,” said 25-year-old Darfuri Intisar Abdelhay.

Thousands of Janjaweed militiamen were incorporated into Sudan’s powerful paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, whose head Mohamed Hamdan Daglo is a key figure in the transitional government.

The Janjaweed stand accused by human rights groups of carrying out widespread killings and rapes as part of a broader campaign of “ethnic cleasing” in the early years of the conflict.

‘No peace yet’

Bashir was deposed by the army in April last year following unprecedented mass protests against his iron-fisted rule.

In August 2019, the military rulers who ousted him agreed a precarious power sharing transition with civilians.

The transition government has pushed to build peace with rebel groups in all three of Sudan’s main conflict zones, including Darfur.

But two rebel groups refused to join the deal, including the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) faction led by Abdelwahid Nour, which is believed to maintain considerable support in Darfur.

Clashes still flare in the region over land and access to water, mainly pitting nomadic Arab pastoralists against settled farmers from non-Arab ethnic groups.

“There is not yet full and comprehensive peace in Sudan,” said Kalma resident Mohamed Hassan.

“And until there is, we are against the end of the UNAMID mission.”

 

AFP

Sudan, Ethiopia Start Border Talks One Week After Clash

A handout picture provided by Sudan’s Prime Ministers office on December 20, 2020 shows Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (L) meeting with his Sudanese counterpart Abdalla Hamdok on the sidelines of the 38th Extraordinary Summit of the Assembly of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in Djibouti.  (Photo by Office of Sudan’s Prime Minister / AFP)

 

Sudan and Ethiopia started talks Tuesday to demarcate their border, Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok’s office said, one week after a deadly clash in a disputed area.

The delegations were led by Ethiopia’s deputy prime minister and foreign minister, Demeke Mekonnen, and Sudan’s minister in charge of the cabinet, Omar Manis.

Hamdok and his Ethiopian counterpart Abiy Ahmed had on Sunday agreed on the talks on the margins of a Djibouti summit of regional bloc the Intergovernmental Authority on Development.

The two-day talks in Khartoum come a week after Ethiopian forces reportedly ambushed Sudanese troops along the border, leaving four dead and more than 20 wounded.

Sudan has since deployed troops to the Al-Fashaqa border region, the site of sporadic clashes.

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The most contested region there is a 250 square kilometre (100 square mile) area where Ethiopian farmers cultivate fertile land on territory claimed by Sudan.

The area borders Ethiopia’s troubled Tigray region, where fighting broke out last month, causing tens of thousands of Ethiopians to flee and cross into Sudan.

Sudan and Ethiopia share a 1,600-kilometre (nearly 1,000 mile) border.

In 1902 a deal to draw up the frontier was struck between Great Britain, the colonial power in Sudan at the time, and Ethiopia but the agreement lacked clear demarcation lines.

The last Sudan-Ethiopia border talks were held in May in Addis Ababa but another meeting scheduled for the following month was cancelled.

Meetings on border demarcation were previously held between 2002 and 2006.

Addis Ababa has been keen to downplay the recent deadly border incident, saying it did not threaten the relationship between the two countries.

A foreign ministry spokesman in Addis Ababa told AFP Ethiopian security forces had “repelled a group of (Sudanese) low-ranking officers and farmers, who had encroached on Ethiopian territory”.

AFP

US Removes Sudan From Terrorism Sponsor Blacklist

A Sudanese man waves a banner showing the national flag colours of Sudan during a protest in the capital Khartoum. PHOTO: Mohamed el-Shahed / AFP

 

The United States has formally removed Sudan from its state sponsors of terrorism blacklist, its Khartoum embassy said on Monday, less than two months after the East African nation pledged to normalise ties with Israel. 

The move opens the way for aid, debt relief, and investment to a country going through a rocky political transition and struggling under a severe economic crisis exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

US President Donald Trump had announced in October that he was delisting Sudan, 27 years after Washington first put the country on its blacklist for harbouring Islamist militants.

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“The congressional notification period of 45 days has lapsed and the Secretary of State has signed a notification stating rescission of Sudan’s State Sponsor of Terrorism designation,” the US embassy said on Facebook, adding that the measure “is effective as of today”.

In response to the move, Sudan’s army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan — who doubles as the head of the Sovereign Council, the country’s highest executive authority — offered his “congratulations to the Sudanese people”.

“It was a task accomplished… in the spirit of the December revolution”, he said on Twitter, referring to a landmark month in 2018 when protests erupted against dictator Omar al-Bashir.

Bashir was deposed by the military in April 2019, four months into the demonstrations against his iron-fisted rule and 30 years after an Islamist-backed coup had brought him to power.

 

– ‘Global siege lifted’ –

Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok also welcomed Washington’s move in a post on Facebook, noting that it means “our beloved country… (is) relieved from the international and global siege” provoked by Bashir’s behaviour.

The removal of the designation “contributes to reforming the economy, attracting investments and remittances of our citizens abroad through official channels” and creates new job opportunities for youth, the premier said.

As part of a deal, Sudan agreed to pay $335 million to compensate survivors and victims’ families from the twin 1998 al-Qaeda attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and a 2000 attack by the jihadist group on the USS Cole off Yemen’s coast.

Those attacks were carried out after Bashir had allowed then al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden sanctuary in Sudan.

Sudan in October became the third Arab country in as many months to pledge that it would normalise relations with Israel, after the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

The transitional government’s pledge came amid a concerted campaign by the Trump administration to persuade Arab nations to recognise the Jewish state, and it has been widely perceived as a quid pro quo for Washington removing Sudan from its terror blacklist.

But unlike the UAE and Bahrain, Sudan has yet to agree a formal deal with Israel, amid wrangling within the fractious transitional power structure over the move.

 

– Cracks in transition –

The first major evidence of engagement between Sudan’s interim authorities and Israel came in February when Burhan met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Uganda.

In late November, a spokesman for the Sovereign Council, comprised of military and civilian figures, confirmed that an Israeli delegation had visited Khartoum earlier in the month.

Seeking to downplay the visit, council spokesman Mohamed al-Faki Suleiman had said “we did not announce it at the time because it was not a major visit or of a political nature”.

Sudan’s transition has lately displayed signs of internal strain. Burhan last week blasted the transitional institutions, formed in August 2019 after months of further street protests demanding the post-Bashir military share power with civilians.

“The transitional council has failed to respond to the aspirations of the people and of the revolution,” Burhan charged while also lauding the integrity of the military.

Trump sent his notice to remove Sudan from the terror blacklist to Congress on October 26. Under US law, a country exits the list after 45 days unless Congress objects, which it has not.

Families of victims of the September 11, 2001, attacks had called on lawmakers to reject the State Department’s proposal, saying they want to pursue legal action against Sudan.

AFP