Eritrea’s Isaias meets Sudanese leaders amid Ethiopia tensions

Khartoum visit by Eritrean president comes amid strained relations between government of Ethiopia, a close ally, and Sudan.

The visit came as Afwerki faces growing pressure from the international community, including the US, to withdrew Eritrean troops from Tigray [File: Ebrahim Hamid/AFP]

Eritrea’s President Isaias Afwerki is in Khartoum for talks with Sudanese officials, in a two-day visit taking place amid tensions between the governments of Ethiopia, a close ally of the Eritrean leader, and Sudan.

Accompanied by Foreign Minister Osman Saleh and presidential adviser Yemane Ghebreab, Isaias was received on Tuesday at the Sudanese capital’s international airport by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, head of Sudan’s ruling sovereign council.

The two leaders then began closed talks on cooperation and ways to strengthen ties between their countries, according to a statement from the council.

Eritrea’s information ministry said in a separate statement that Isaias and al-Burhan had “agreed to strengthen their efforts in the implementation of the Agreement of Cooperation reached between the two countries in the political, economic, social, security, and military sectors”.

Isaias also held talks with Sudanese Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok in which they stressed the importance of regional integration in the Horn of Africa and “agreed to focus on a few, concrete, projects to consolidate Eritrea-Sudan bilateral ties within the regional framework”.

The visit comes after Sudan in February accused “a third party” of siding with Ethiopia in a decades-old border dispute with Sudan over contested farmlands in the fertile al-Fashaga region. It was likely referring to Eritrea, which has deployed troops to Ethiopia’s Tigray region to fight alongside Ethiopian federal forces in the conflict there.

Following Sudan’s accusation, Eritrea dispatched its foreign minister to Sudan to assure Khartoum that Eritrea was not part of the dispute between Sudan and Ethiopia. In late March, the United Nations reported that Eritrean forces were operating in the so-called al-Fashaga triangle.

The decades-long disagreement over al-Fashaga escalated in November after Sudan deployed troops to the territories it says are occupied by Ethiopian farmers and militias.

Sudan and Ethiopia have since held rounds of talks to try and settle the dispute, most recently in Khartoum in December, but have not made progress.

Sudan has said its forces have reclaimed most of its territory. But it called on Ethiopia to withdraw troops from at least two points it says are inside Sudan under an agreement that demarcated the borders between the two nations in the early 1900s.

Ethiopia, however, accused Sudan of taking advantage of the conflict in Tigray to enter Ethiopian territory and loot property, kill civilians and displace thousands of people. The Tigray fighting has sent more than 70,000 Ethiopian refugees into Sudan.

Isaia’s visit also comes as he faces growing pressure from the international community to withdraw Eritrean troops from Tigray.

Soldiers from Eritrea, long an enemy of Tigray’s now-fugitive leaders, have also been blamed for some of the worst human rights abuses in the Tigray conflict, including massacres of civilians and systematic rape.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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