Brookings: Internal and external conflicts compound in Ethiopia

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Source: Brookings | Chris Heitzig

In recent weeks, tensions between Ethiopia and Sudan over the disputed Al-Fashqa region have flared up, including an attack on Tuesday that left 80 civilians dead, according to Sudan’s Foreign Ministry. The latest violence comes in the wake of fatal attacks in the region last month that killed more than 220 people. The situation is complicated by a multitude of actors, including gangs, which Sudanese officials have claimed are responsible for some of the violence. On Tuesday, Ethiopia indicated that it was losing patience for Sudan’s militarization on the border of the disputed territory. Sudan has blamed Ethiopian military forces for escalating conflict in the region and reported on Wednesday that an Ethiopian military aircraft had recently entered into Sudanese territory.

A new round of negotiations to resolve the dispute over the filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam was short-lived, as the three countries concluded on January 10 without a resolution. In separate statements, Ethiopia and Egypt faulted Sudan for the latest impasse. The statement released by Egypt’s foreign ministry read, “Sudan insisted on the assigning of African Union experts to offer solutions to contentious issues … a proposal which Egypt and Ethiopia have reservations about.” Sudan, however, claims the stalemate stems from Ethiopia’s determination to fill the reservoir with 13.5 million cubic meters of water this year in the face of objections from other countries in the region. “We cannot continue this vicious cycle of circular talks indefinitely,” said Sudanese Irrigation Minister Yasir Abbas.

These tensions continue to mount despite the fragile situation within Ethiopia itself. Last week, a senior Ethiopian military official confirmed that Eritrean troops were indeed present in the country’s Tigray region, which has been the source of infighting for several months. Humanitarians fear that fighting in that region has rendered the local population vulnerable to displacement and food insecurity. Last week, the United Nations expressed in a report the fear that Tigray could also be a source of “massive community transmission” of COVID-19 due to the suspension of health services caused by the conflict.

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