The Sudanese government says the country’s military forces have taken control of most of the agricultural land allegedly occupied by Ethiopians near the border between the two countries.
Tensions have flared since the outbreak of a conflict in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region last month and the arrival of thousands of mainly Tigrayan refugees in eastern Sudan.
The dispute between the two countries has been revolving around the agricultural land in al-Fashqa area, which falls within Sudan’s international boundaries but has long been settled by Ethiopian farmers.
The row has culminated in armed clashes between Sudanese and Ethiopian forces in recent weeks, with both sides accusing the other of instigating the violence.
“We believe in dialog to solve any problem,” Sudan’s Information Minister Faisal Salih said Saturday. “But our army will do its duty to take back all our land. Currently our army has taken back between 60% and 70% of Sudanese land.”
Stressing that the clashes had subsided in the past two days, Salih blamed the escalation on the Ethiopian army and said, “Sudanese intelligence reports confirmed that the organization, training and arming of the forces that attacked were not militias but regular forces.”
Sudan hosted authorities from Ethiopia to hold talks this week in Khartoum over the issue of the disputed agricultural land, with Sudanese officials saying the border was demarcated in the first years of the 20th century and that the ongoing negotiations were limited to talks over placing additional markers on the land at 2km rather than 10km intervals.
Ahead of the talks this week, Ethiopia’s Foreign Minister Ato Demeke Mekonnen said the Sudanese military had carried out attacks, plundering farm products and exerting violence against Ethiopian refugees.
“Agricultural products of Ethiopian farmers are looted, their camps are vandalized, and they are also hampered from harvesting their own farms. A number of civilians have been murdered and wounded,” he claimed.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed also blamed in a statement “parties with hidden motives to create hostility and suspicion between peoples” for the violence.
The African nation has been grappling with outbreaks of deadly hostilities since Abiy was appointed in 2018 and loosened the central government’s iron grip on regional rivalries.
Abiy, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize 2019, has accused rebel forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the region’s ruling party, of launching deadly attacks on a pair of federal military camps in the region. He has also accused the party of defying his government and seeking to undermine it.
The Ethiopian military has so far carried out a number of massive attacks against the purported positions of rebel forces loyal to the TPLF in the Tigray region. The violence, however, has forced a large number of people to flee the region and cross the border into neighboring Sudan, which itself struggles with severe economic problems.
The United Nations and aid agencies have been pressing for safe access to Tigray, which is home to more than 5 million people and where 600,000 were dependent on food aid even before the conflict began last month.
Thousands are feared dead and the UN estimates that more than 950,000 people have been displaced by the conflict, nearly 50,000 of them into neighboring Sudan.
General elections scheduled to be held next year have further inflamed rivalries over land, power, and resources in the impoverished African country.