Khartoum and Addis Ababa take a step closer to reconciliation in the border conflict of Al-Fashaga – a region of very fertile land and rich in oil reserves located in the northeast of Sudan, and legally controlled by Khartoum, although in practice inhabited by Amharas of Ethiopian nationality. The exchange of 62 prisoners between the Sudanese armed forces and their Ethiopian counterpart, at the Al Qalabat pass – close to the line that separates both countries –thus it has been evidenced.
The press release issued this Monday by Sudan after the operation included the details of the exchange: the parties, meeting in Matamah and sponsored by operators of the international Red Cross, handed over last Sunday a total of 62 prisoners -53 soldiers and Ethiopians and 9 Sudanese individuals, of whom seven were civilians, and two were members of the security forces– within the framework of an atmosphere of “positive cooperation and coordination between both parties”.
While the Sudanese authorities were announcing the exchange – and even the colonel head of the Military Intelligence Division led by the Second Infantry Division, Suileiman Abu Halima, and the lieutenant colonel spokesman for the Armed Forces, Nabil Abdullah, affirmed that this step demonstrated the intentions of the Sudanese Armed Forces to collaborate with international protocols and to safeguard human rights–, Ethiopia was late in its notification. Until after noon (3:00 p.m. in the African country) Addis Ababa did not make any kind of information public.
The 62 exchanged prisoners were detained during the Ethiopian-Sudanese clashes that broke out in 2020 for control of the Al-Fashaga region. And it is that the territory – which in 2008 had already been officially recognized by both sides as part of Sudan – once again became a source of dispute when the new Ethiopian government (installed in 2018) considered that the largest ethnic group in Al- Fashaga, the Amhara ethnic group, had not been consulted by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front government in drafting the 2008 agreement.
A situation that in the year 2020 lays the foundations so that, when the Ethiopian Abiy Ahmed Ali, Nobel Peace Prize winner in 2019, ordered the launch of an offensive against Tigray -bordering the Al-Fashaga region-, Khartoum took advantage of deploy their troops to the region that – on paper – belongs to them. The direct confrontation between the two parties began.
From that moment, and until today, Khartoum has relied on the argument that Ethiopian farmers in the region were cultivating within their territory under the protection of militias from Addis Ababa, while the latter accused his counterpart to expel Amhara farmers and to carry out “organized attacks” on the Ethiopian side of the border. Dozens of soldiers from both sides lost their lives in the fighting..
Now, the Khartoum and Addis Ababa positions –already faced by key international issues such as the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which raises concerns about access to water from the Nile River in countries such as Egypt or Sudan– they stand in opposition to each other when it comes to the Al-Fashaga conflict. Sudan defends that there is no border dispute, that the territory belongs to it as stated in the 1902 agreement signed with the then colonial power, Great Britain. Ethiopia, for its part, advocates finding a friendly solution to the conflict that takes into account the situation of the Amhara inhabitants who inhabit Al-Fashaga.
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Ethiopia and Sudan exchange 62 prisoners captured during border dispute over Al-Fashaga