The High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy in the European Union, Josep Borrell, has instructed the Finnish Foreign Minister, Pekka Haavisto, to visit Sudan and Ethiopia as a special envoy of the European Union. The visit aims to alleviate tensions between Sudan and Ethiopia, and to find out how the international community can provide support in seeking peaceful solutions to the current regional crisis.
Pekka Haavisto arrived in Khartoum on Sunday morning, meeting top government officials, including Abdelfattah al-Burhan, president of the Sovereign Council (the Sudanese transitional government formed by the military junta and opposition parties following the 2019 revolution), Prime Minister Abdullah Hamdok and Foreign Minister Omar Qamar al-Din. The special envoy will remain in Sudan until Tuesday when he travels to Addis Ababa to meet Prime Minister Abyi Ahmed Ali and senior officials of the new one-party government. No mention of any discussions between the European special envoy and the Ethiopian government on the conflict in Tigray and the dramatic humanitarian emergency situation in the northern region devastated since November 3, 2020 by one of the most violent and brutal wars in Africa.
Since December 2019, the Ethiopian Premier has organized an institutional coup by dissolving the EPRDF (Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front) governing coalition that led the country since the fall of the Stalinist regime of the DERG in 1991. The coup forces the TPFL to stand in opposition after having keep EPRDF leadership for 28 years. The preamble of the political crisis that 11 months later will turn into a horrible regional conflict involving Eritrea with the theater of war Tigray, the native region of the TPLF Tigrinya leaders.
Currently Ethiopian government is run by Abiy party: Prosperity Party born from nothing and without a popular mandate. Abiy has promised to hold “free and transparent” elections next July. A promise deemed unrealizable due to the state of war in which the country fell and the authoritarian maneuvers of the Premier and the Amhara leaders imbued with archaic imperial glories and a desire for revenge after being excluded from power with the fall of their last Emperor Haile Selaisse.
The EU diplomatic tour attempts to break the trend of military escalation between Sudan and Ethiopia. On Thursday 4 February, new border clashes occurred in the Sudanese territories of Al-Fashqa Al-Sughra following an attempt by the Ethiopian federal army and the Amhara militias to occupy these territories claimed as an integral part of Ethiopia. According to Sudanese sources, confirmed by local media: Sudan Tribune, Al-Sudani and Altaghyeer, after intense fighting the Sudanese army managed to regain control of the territory by pushing the Ethiopian forces across the border. The epicenter of the clashes was the Cumbo Melkamu area and the village of Barakat Noreen. According to diplomatic sources, the federal army and the Amhara militias aimed to conquer the area to use it as a bridgehead for a grand invasion aimed at annexing the disputed border territories.
Al-Fashqa’s exceptionally fertile lands is divided into three regions: Al-Fashqa Al-Kubra, Al-Fashqa Al-Sughra, and the southern region. The Al-Fashqa region is within the borders of Sudan, located within the state of al-Qadarif. In the 1990s, thousands of Amhara peasants from Ethiopia immigrated in search of fertile land. Their presence was tolerated by the former dictator Omar El Bashir who was dismissed in April 2019 following the Sudanese revolution which began in December 2018.
The coexistence between these economic immigrants and the indigenous population proved problematic with periodic incidents between Ethiopian and Sudanese farmers. Since November 2020, tensions have further increased as 50,000 Tigrinya refugees fled to the region to escape the brutal and archaic conflict in the Trigay between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the federal government led by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali. According to regional analysts, since last November there is a premeditated plan to annex these Sudanese territories in order to expand the borders of the Amhara region which has already incorporated the territories of southern Tigray as a thanks to the participation of the federal government’s military campaign against the TPLF .
Since January 2021, there have been various invasion attempts by Ethiopian forces trying to violently displace the Sudanese populations and annex the fertile lands of Al-Fashqa. In fact, these tensions have created a low-intensity (currently) undeclared border war. The European Union fears that this border war could evolve into open confrontation between the two Countries, involving other regional actors including Eritrea and Egypt, connecting to the delicate dispute over the water resources of the Nile and the Ethiopian mega dam GERD. At the moment Sudan is in a defensive position, limiting itself to rejecting the attempts of invasion by the Ethiopian side, but the strong political pressure exerted by the Amhara leadership on the Ethiopian Premier could soon create the conditions for a large-scale war.
This low-intensity undeclared border conflict comes at a very delicate moment for Sudan which is preparing to respect the road map drawn between the secular opposition parties and the military junta that form a transitional government: the Sovereign Transitional Council (SCT ), born as a result of the popular uprising forced the military to remove longtime dictator Omar Al-Bashir in 2019. On Sunday, during theofficial visit by the European special envoy, Prime Minister Abdullah Hamdok dissolved his government in agreement with the President of the SCT, Lieutenant General AbdelfattahEl Burhan who signed a constitutional decree to add three new members to the council.
The three new council members appointed by El Burhan arerebels leaders: Sudan Revolutionary Front (SRF) chairman and leader of the Sudan Liberation Movement-Transitional Council (SLM-TC) El Hadi Idris Yahya; leader of the People’s Liberation Movement of North Sudan (SPLM-N) Malik Agar; and leader of the Sudan Liberation Movement for Justice-Karbino (SLMJ-K) El Tahir Abubakr Hajar.
The decision follows the provisions of the constitutional decrees of 2019 (38) and (39) and is based on article 2/11 of the constitutional document for the transitional period of 2019, as amended in 2020. The new government will increase women participation of 40% at all levels of the government structure. The South Darfur Women’s Union, in partnership with the Sudanese campaign group Our Right, has announced an open charter called the Common Platform Charter to increase women’s participation in national political life. We recall that during the Sudanese revolution women played a crucial role which forced the generals loyal to the dictator Omar El Bashir to arrest him and create the transitional government.
Complicating the low-intensity war with Ethiopia is the resumption of the ten-year conflict in the Sudanese region of Darfur. Clashes between the army and rebels resumed last January 15 in the province of West Darfur and the following day they spread to southern Darfur causing the death of 250 civilians including 3 humanitarian workers and the exodus of about 3,500 new Sudanese refugees in the provinces Eastern Chad.
Darfur, a vast region the size of Spain and plagued by violence for years, was the site of a United Nations-African Union (UNAMID) hybrid peacekeeping mission that was deployed to protect civilians, facilitate the delivery of aid and support efforts to address the root causes of the conflict. UNAMID’s mandate ended last year and ceased operations on December 31, 2020, about two weeks before the last round of violence. The mission is currently undergoing a withdrawal, a process that includes the repatriation of troops, their vehicles and other equipment; the separation of civilian personnel; and the closure of its offices.
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