JUBA (AGENCIES) – The leaders of Sudan and Ethiopia will separately travel to the South Sudanese capital Juba next week to kick off a mediation bid by the South Sudanese government to defuse a border dispute.
Senior presidential aide Tut Gatluak, who has been shuttling between Khartoum and Addis Ababa in recent weeks for talks with their leaders on the border quarrel, announced the visits on Wednesday.
When in Juba, Sudan’s de facto head of state Gen Abdel Fatah Al Burhan and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed will meet with South Sudanese President Salva Kiir.
Depending on the outcome of these talks, a three-way summit could be held later in Juba, Mr Gatluak said.
Also on Wednesday, a spokesman for the Sudanese Foreign Ministry said the country’s ambassador to Addis Ababa had been summoned for “consultations,” Reuters reported.
It was not immediately clear if it was linked to the border dispute.
A Saudi government envoy, Minister of State for African Affairs Ahmed Qatan, was meanwhile in Khartoum on Wednesday to try to defuse tension between Sudan and Ethiopia.
He held talks with Sudanese leaders, including Gen Al Burhan and Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok. He was scheduled to visit Addis Ababa later this week.
The Sudanese-Ethiopian border dispute began when the Sudanese military moved in December to wrest back control of enclaves on its side of the border that had for decades been settled by farmers from the powerful Amhara ethnic group.
The Sudanese action triggered a series of deadly clashes. On Sunday, Sudan said Ethiopian forces had crossed into Sudanese territory and warned that Addis Ababa would have to suffer the consequences of its “aggression” if they are not pulled back.
Sudan insists that a colonial-era demarcation deal reached in 1902 remained valid to this day and must be respected by Ethiopia. Addis Ababa insists it would only negotiate with Sudan over the border after its forces pull out from the areas they retook.
The two countries are also at sharp odds over a massive Nile dam being built by Ethiopia less than 20 kilometres from the Sudanese border.
Sudan wants Ethiopia to enter a legally binding agreement obliging it to share data on the operation of the hydroelectric dam to shield its territory from flooding and ensure the smooth operation of its own power-generating dams on the Blue Nile.
Ethiopia says it would only agree to non-binding recommendations and will go ahead with a second filling of the dam in July regardless of whether an agreement was reached.
Egypt, like Sudan a downstream nation, is also alarmed that the dam could significantly reduce its vital share of the Nile’s waters, a possibility that could cost it hundreds of thousands of jobs and disrupt its delicate food balance.