Ethio-Sudan border: Unidentified armed men stir tension

[Updated on the first section with an early November killing of Ethiopians]
[Updated on third section the VP’s meeting with the Ambassador and his visit to Addis.]

  • Sudan says border demarcation will be completed next year.
  • V/President Rahman to raise the matter to PM Hailemariam Desalegn

Ethiopian Ambassador met with the Sudanese V/President on Friday as security conditions in the northern section of their border deteriorate. Photo - Sudanese newspapers November 2015

Media reports from Khartoum indicate that armed men from Ethiopia’s Amhara region have been raiding areas in Sudan’s Gedaref region in the past weeks.

V/President Abdul Rahman intends to raise the matter to Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn during his visit later this week to Ethiopia’s north-western city Bahir-Dar to attend a ruling party event. The chief of Gedaref region is also said to have headed to Bahir-Dar to discuss with regional officials.

Tension in the Ethio-Sudanese border escalated further this week as five Sudanese farmers were abducted from border areas. According to Hooray newspaper, Ethiopian armed men abducted the farmers from Atarab and Tekulain areas of Gadarif into Ethiopian territory, Amhara region, and demanded a ransom.

Last week, Sudanese media reported that Ethiopian militiamen abducted two Sudanese people in Basundah, in southern Gedaref state, in Abu Taher area. They were released after USD 24,460 ransom was paid to them via credit transfer.

Another media report on Khartoum road claimed, citing an official of Gedaref State, that Ethiopian armed men kidnapped 20 Sudanese nationals in that area last week and released them after receiving about USD 59,000 ransom.

In the first week of this month, three sesame farmers were abducted by Ethiopian gunmen in the locality and were freed after USD 19,700 ransom was paid, Sudanese media reported.

In the first week of November, unspecified number of Ethiopian day laborers were reportedly killed in a commercial farm around Metema. According to an opposition website, Sudanese soldiers sneaked into a commercial farm at night and set it on fire. The farm is said to be owned by Addis Ababa resident named Kidane and located inside Ethiopian territory. According to the news, the Sudanese killed the day laborers they found on their way out.

While the matter didn’t receive attention in the Ethiopian media, it has been a major talking point in Khartoum, according to HornAffairs’ Sudanese associate Adam Babekir who has been updating us since mid-October.

Ethiopian and Sudanese army generals reportedly held meetings in Gedaref City in mid-October, following an incident that left one Sudanese soldier dead.

The clash between the unidentified Ethiopian armed men and Sudanese soldiers took place on October 11 in Gedaref region, in an area called Shangal, on the edge of Kinena locality, northwest of El Gallabat town. Though there has not been official statement about it, Dabanga Sudan media claimed Sudanese army reinforcements forces to the area. At least one Sudanese soldier was killed.

Despite the generals’ meeting, later that week, Ethiopian armed men allegedly killed two Sudanese farmers and injured another in a place called Khour Saad about 30 kilometer inside Sudan, according to Adam Babeker.

In a closed parliamentary session, at the end of October, Sudanese Minister of Interior Affairs lamented: “28 people were killed and injured during recent attacks in El Fashaga, El Qureisha, and El Galabat localities. Seven farmers were abducted, and 295 head of cattle were stolen”. He also demanded “a speedy dispatch of army troops to El Gedaref to secure the area.”

Prior to that, in the last week of August, eight Ethiopian truck drivers were killed about 10km away from the Sudanese town of Galabat “after being invited into Sudan for work.” The Metema border crossing was briefly closed to prevent retaliations. Nonetheless, it appears the Ethiopians retaliated later on.

Officials’ remarks

There has not been any statement from Addis Ababa so far. Officials declined HornAffairs’ request for comment.

Sudanese officials, on the other hand, have been increasing vocal on the matter in the past weeks. Though, they tended to downplay it.

Officials of Gadarif region claimed in a press conference last week that Ethiopian militants occupied one million fedan (about half-a-million hectare) fertile highly productive land in the Elfashagha, Basundah, Gurrisha and eastern Gallabat localities of the region. They also claimed that nine villages near the border have left their homes owing to the repeated attacks by Ethiopian gunmen. “The villages are now inhabited by thousands Ethiopians related to those gunmen.”

Director of the Department of International Relations Sudanese Foreign Ministry Ambassador Sirajuddin Hamid described the alleged attacks by Ethiopian armed groups as highly worrying,” adding “it is not backed by the Ethiopian government but individual actions.”

Hamid explained that the problems at the border would not be solved until the demarcation is completed. “Although we have made unremitting efforts for several years, we could not finish the demarcation process due to “historical reasons” Hamid told local media.

Following increased media criticisms, Sudanese Vice President El-Rahman met the Ethiopian Ambassador on Friday to discuss the matter. In subsequent media statement at the presidential palace, the Vice President claimed that the government is making great efforts to demarcate the border with Ethiopia and indicated that demarcation will be completed next year.

An official at the Ethiopian foreign Ministry, however, told HornAffairs that:

It was our Ambassador who requested for the meeting. They only met to discuss issues related with the meeting of “Ethio-Sudanese Joint Technical Committee on Economic matters” which commenced in Addis Ababa on Saturday. The VP will come and join the meeting on Monday.

Border demarcation

Despite the Khartoum’s optimism, the demarcation of the Ethio-Sudanese border remains an elusive matter.

The treaties signed between Ethiopia and Britain in the first decade of the 1900s failed to adequately demarcate the borders. A subsequent attempt to demarcate by a British colonel Charles Gwynn is deemed unilateral. It appears, in 1972, Ethiopia’s Emperor Haileselasie and Sudan’s President Nemeri partially agreed on sections of the border through exchanges of notes.

Since the mid-2000s a joint border commission has been deliberating on demarcation, though the details remain unknown.

Ethiopian opposition accused the government of succeeding territory in 2007 and 2008 when Sudanese media reported a deal was struck. Similar controversy arose earlier this year when opposition media claimed Amhara region bequeathed to Sudan about 1,600 Sq Km land.

Both time, Addis Ababa denied the claims. The Foreign Ministry insists that “no new agreement besides to what has been agreed by Emperor Haileselasie.” However, it is unclear what exactly that means.


Daniel Berhane

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