SOURCE: Al Jazeera News
The latest tension was sparked after Sudan signed an agreement to temporarily hand over the Red Sea island of Suakin to Turkey [Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/Reuters]
Sudan says it has sent more troops to its eastern border with Eritrea as tension in the Red Sea region continues to rise.
"Sudan's national army has sent part of its forces to this area to protect Sudan's security as we have information that some parties are targeting us," Sudanese foreign minister, Ibrahim Ghandour, said after meeting his Ethiopian counterpart Workneh Gebeyehu in Khartoum on Sunday.
Ghandour said that they were not talking "about threats to a country per se" but that they have information that shows there are some who would mean them harm.
"This is why we are anticipating whatever danger can come from there," Ghandour said.
The meeting took place amid deteriorating relations between Sudan and Ethiopia on one side and Egypt and Eritrea on the other. Khartoum has also recalled its ambassador in Cairo following the reports of Egyptian troops presence in Eritrea.
The latest tension was sparked after Sudan signed an agreement to temporarily hand over the Red Sea island of Suakin to Turkey.
Ankara and Khartoum said Turkey would rebuild the ruined, sparsely populated Ottoman island to increase tourism and create a transit point for pilgrims crossing the Red Sea to Islam's holiest city of Mecca. Turkey is also set to build a naval dock on the island.
Egyptian media criticised the agreement and alleged Turkey would build a military base on the island.
Ties between Turkey and Egypt have been frosty for some time.
Ankara strongly condemned Egypt's military coup in 2013, which overthrew democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Political tension between the Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia has been rising for years over the use of the water of the Nile River and Ethiopia's decision to build the continent's biggest hydroelectric dam on the river.
Egypt has been at odds with Sudan and Ethiopia over the $4.8bn dam project, with Cairo fearing that its position downstream may affect its access to water from the Nile River basin, which will feed the dam.
Cairo accuses Sudan of supporting the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) project, while Khartoum accuses Egypt of supporting rebels in Sudan.
Meanwhile, Eritrea has fought two border wars with Ethiopia - which has had a decades-long dispute with Egypt over the Nile River water. The border wars left more than 80,000 people dead and the two East African countries are technically still at war.
Cairo meanwhile avoided responding immediately to the claim, declaring through its Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid that the Egyptian position on Sudan has been “expressed by Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry on several occasions.”
Ibrahim Mahmoud, assistant to the Sudanese president and his deputy in the ruling National Congress Party, said that the authorities received security information about possible threats, which may come from Egypt and Eritrea in the Eritrean area of Sawa.
Mahmoud explained that the meeting of the leadership of the ruling party, which began Wednesday evening and concluded early Thursday, directed the continuation of security arrangements on the eastern border of the country, to face potential threats from the two countries.
Cairo, in turn, avoided escalation with Khartoum. Contacted by Asharq Al-Awsat, the official spokesmen of the Egyptian Ministries of Defense and Foreign Affairs refused to comment on the Sudanese accusations.
In a press conference with his Tanzanian counterpart on Thursday, Shoukry said that Egypt “has always the hope that relations with Sudan will be satisfactory to take into account the aspirations and interests of the two peoples in accordance with previous agreements.”
“This requires efforts and policies of openness... This has always been the aspiration of Egypt”, he stated.
A well-informed Egyptian political source told Asharq Al-Awsat that Egypt wanted to “soothe the atmosphere with Sudan at this time, and hopes that Sudan will not be the tool of a regional force that wants to pressure Egypt and poison the current situation.”
Sudan had closed its eastern border with Eritrea and deployed thousands of troops near the joint border after President Omar al-Bashir announced a state of emergency in the states of Kassala and North Kordofan on December 30.
The official statements at the time said that the closure of the border, and the transfer of troops to the east of the country, aimed at fighting smugglers and traffickers.
However, Mahmoud revealed for the first time on Thursday that they received “security information about possible threats, which may come from Egypt and Eritrea.”
Earlier this week, Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi received his Eritrean counterpart, Isaias Afwerki, to discuss bilateral relations and coordination of efforts on all issues related to the situation in the Horn of Africa.
According to observers who spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat, Egypt, through extensive cooperation with Eritrea, is seeking greater influence in the Horn of Africa, which is strategically important for its national security, with the growing Turkish and Qatari presence there, and the current tensions with Ethiopia and Sudan.
In this photo provided by Egypt's state news agency, MENA, Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki, left, meets with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi at the presidential
Sudan has shut its eastern border with Eritrea, state media reported Saturday, days after Khartoum declared an emergency in the neighboring state of Kassala.
"The governor of Kassala issued a decree to close all border crossings with Eritrea from the night of January 5," the official SUNA news agency reported.
It did not explain why the border was closed but said the decision comes after President Omar al-Bashir declared on December 30 a state of emergency in Kasala and in North Kordofan state for six months.
Officials have said that decision was part of a government campaign to collect illegal arms in those two states.
A resident of Kassala told AFP that hundreds of Sudanese soldiers, several military vehicles and tanks had crossed through the town towards the border with Eritrea over the past two days.
Thousands of Eritreans, fleeing a repressive regime at home, cross into Sudan illegally through the border with Kassala every year and later make perilous voyages across the Mediterranean to Europe.
Apart from Kassala and North Kordofan, a state of emergency is in place in Sudan's war-torn regions of Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan.
Eritrea and Sudan, are the only two African nations recently re-designated by the United States as “countries of particular concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act for having engaged in or tolerated egregious violations of religious freedom.
In all, the U.S. State Department said it had re-designated 10 countries over violations of religious freedoms. Beside the Africa duo, China is listed as well as Iran, Myanmar and North Korea.
Completing the list is Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and one of America’s biggest trade, diplomatic and security allies, Saudi Arabia. All 10 countries were re-designated on Dec. 22. Pakistan was also placed on a special watch list, the State Department added.
“The protection of religious freedom is vital to peace, stability, and prosperity,” the department said in a statement. “These designations are aimed at improving the respect for religious freedom in these countries.”
Eritrea, despite being a largely religious nation, there are multiple reports of the government having arrested and detained religious leaders, some without trial.
Issues came to a head in November last year when security forces were deployed to break up a rare protest in the capital, Asmara. Students of an Islamic school were protesting government interference in the running of their institution and calling for the release of a detained principal.
Sudan has also been severally accused of repressing religious freedoms especially of non-Muslims. Some of the undertones that led to South Sudan’s independence were hinged on religious freedoms. The country has a dominantly Muslim north with the south being Christian.
Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir has announced a 6-month state of emergency in the states of Kassala and North Kurdufan, government news agency SUNA said on Saturday.
The move is part of ongoing disarmament campaigns which started near Darfur and Blue Nile in October.
Contact: John Stauffer – 610-891-8470