Ethiopia has denied it staged an attack over the weekend along its shared border with Sudan, blaming unrest in the disputed zone on rebels from its war-hit Tigray region.
On Saturday, Sudan’s military said “several” soldiers had been killed in an attack by armed groups and militias linked to the Ethiopian military in the fertile expanse known as Al-Fashaqa.
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The area has long been a source of tension between Addis Ababa and Khartoum, sparking deadly clashes over the last year.
But in comments that aired on state media on Sunday, Ethiopian government spokesman Legesse Tulu dismissed claims the military had attacked Sudan as “groundless”.
Instead, he blamed the violence on the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the fighter group that has been locked in a gruesome war against Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government since November 2020 and claims to be approaching the capital Addis Ababa.
“A large group of insurgents, bandits and terrorists had entered [from Sudan],” Legesse said in comments aired by the Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation, without providing evidence.
“The Ethiopian National Defence Force and the local militia have destroyed them,” he added.
Legesse also said the TPLF was training in Sudan and receiving support from unspecified “foreign backers”.
The land in Al-Fashaqa has for years been cultivated by Ethiopian farmers, though Sudan claims it falls within its territory.
In November 2020, around the time Abiy sent troops into Tigray to remove the TPLF, Khartoum stationed troops in Al-Fashaqa, a move Addis Ababa has described as an invasion.
Yet Legesse said Ethiopia was keen to resolve the matter peacefully.
“The Ethiopian National Defence Force doesn’t have an agenda to open an attack on any sovereign country,” he said, referring to the military.
“There is land that the Sudanese forces have invaded. The government is sitting down to resolve [the dispute] in a peaceful process, through dialogue and negotiation.”
The war in northern Ethiopia has killed thousands of people and driven hundreds of thousands more into famine-like conditions, according to the United Nations estimates.
Last week, Abiy, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, announced he would head to the front to lead operations against the TPLF.
On Sunday, state media reported that the military and special forces from the Afar region had taken control of the town of Chifra.
The area around Chifra has been the site of fierce fighting in recent weeks, with the TPLF apparently trying to seize control of a critical highway that brings goods into Addis Ababa.
A TPLF source disputed the state media report on Monday, saying “active fighting is going on”.