Gov’t says it’s safe to return refugees who fled fighting to region’s camps but UN calls move ‘absolutely unacceptable’.
Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok says he has agreed with Ethiopian counterpart, Abiy Ahmed, to hold an urgent meeting of a bloc of East African countries to resolve the crisis in Ethiopia’s Tigray region.
There was no immediate comment by Ethiopia’s government on Hamdok’s announcement on Sunday of an “emergency” meeting of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).
Hamdok travelled to Addis Ababa amid a growing refugee crisis that has seen some 50,000 Ethiopians flee conflict in the northern Tigray region into neighbouring Sudan.
He is the first foreign leader to visit the Ethiopian capital since fighting broke out in Tigray on November 4, creating a humanitarian crisis and killing thousands of people.
Arrived at Addis Ababa today to meet with PM @AbiyAhmedAli. I look forward to having productive discussions on political, humanitarian and security matters of common concern that serve the future of peace, stability and prosperity for our two sisterly nations and the region. pic.twitter.com/7fMTzNhPaQ
— Abdalla Hamdok (@SudanPMHamdok) December 13, 2020
A Sudanese government official told AFP news agency the meeting between Hamdok and Abiy had been “fruitful, especially on the emergency meeting of IGAD” and on reviving a committee to work on delineating their shared border.
IGAD was founded in 1996 and brings together the East African nations of Ethiopia, Sudan, Djibouti, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan and Uganda.
On the Ethiopian side, Abiy, winner of last year’s Nobel Peace Prize, said Hamdok expressed support for the offensive against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) during face-to-face talks.
“The Sudanese side reiterated their solidarity with the government of Ethiopia in the law enforcement operations it has been undertaking,” said a statement from Abiy’s office.
Hamdok also recalled support Abiy had previously extended to Sudan, it added.
Escalating refugee crisis
The visit came two weeks after the Ethiopian leader declared victory in the fight against the now-fugitive regional government in Tigray.
Separately on Sunday, Abiy said on Twitter that he visited the Tigrayan capital of Mekelle for the first time since federal forces claimed control of the city on November 28.
Abiy has dismissed reports of ongoing clashes as “sporadic gunfire” not indicating major combat.
Went to Mekelle and met with commanders of the ENDF as well as the Provisional Administration of Tigray. Telecom & electricity currently being restored after repairs; infrastructure works underway & humanitarian relief provided. We will continue apprehending the criminal clique. pic.twitter.com/EkM2szlv7S
— Abiy Ahmed Ali 🇪🇹 (@AbiyAhmedAli) December 13, 2020
The conflict has alarmed the international humanitarian community since the eruption in violence has largely cut the Tigray region of 6 million people off from the world.
On Saturday, the first international aid convoy carrying medicines and relief supplies arrived in Mekelle, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said, but more is still needed.
The refugee crisis adds to Sudan’s economic and security burdens. Its transitional government has already been struggling under the weight of decades of sanctions imposed by the United States and mismanagement under former ruler Omar al-Bashir, who was removed from power last year.