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Sisi says Egypt, Sudan reject Ethiopian Nile dam 'fait accompli'

On visit to Sudan, Egyptian president rejects Ethiopian policy of 'unilateral measures without taking Sudan's and Egypt's interests into account' over Blue Nile dam project
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (L) is received by Sudan's head of state, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, upon the former's arrival in Sudan's capital Khartoum on 6 March 2021 (Handout/AFP)

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi warned on Saturday against Ethiopia continuing to fill its Nile dam, on his first visit to Sudan since the removal of longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir nearly two years ago.

Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia have been locked for almost a decade in inconclusive talks over the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Blue Nile, which broke ground in 2011. 

Egypt sees the structure as a threat to its water supply, while Sudan fears its own dams will be harmed if Ethiopia proceeds with filling the GERD before a deal is reached.

"We reject the policy of imposing a fait accompli and extending control over the Blue Nile through unilateral measures without taking Sudan's and Egypt's interests into account," Sisi said on Saturday, in a statement carried by Sudan's state TV.

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Addis Ababa, which said it reached its first-year filling target last year, has declared plans to go ahead with the second phase of filling regardless of whether an agreement is in place. 

Egypt and Sudan "have agreed to relaunch negotiations with quadripartite mediation that includes the African Union, the United Nations, the European Union and the United States… to reach a deal before the flood season", Sisi added, standing alongside the Sudanese head of state, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.

Ethiopia claims it has the right to draw from the Nile after the waters have been long exploited by Egypt.

Sisi has recently been on a diplomatic push, seeking support over the dam from South Sudan and South Africa, while his foreign minister, Sameh Shoukry, told UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday that negotiations needed to be relaunched. 

Ethiopia this week indicated its opposition to adding mediators to an existing, African Union-led process.

The visit to Khartoum, Sisi's first since Islamist Bashir's ouster in April 2019, comes amid efforts to bolster Sudanese-Egyptian ties and amid tensions between Sudan and Ethiopia over a disputed border region. 

Since Bashir was toppled following mass protests in 2019, a military-civilian council has held power in Sudan under a political transition expected to last until the end of 2023.

Tensions running high

Sisi's talks with Burhan, and separately with Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, also addressed maritime security in the Red Sea and the Sudan-Ethiopia border tensions, state TV reported.

In a statement released after the meetings, the Egyptian presidency hinted at Cairo's support for Khartoum in its border dispute with Addis Ababa. 

"Recent Sudanese moves to assert sovereignty over its eastern borders with Ethiopia are in line with Sudan's respect for international border agreements," a presidency spokesman, Bassam Rady, said. 

Tensions have been running high over the Al-Fashaqa border region, where Ethiopian farmers cultivate fertile land claimed by Sudan. 

The two countries have been trading accusations of violence in the area and territorial violations.

This week, top Egyptian and Sudanese army officials signed a deal on military cooperation between the two countries, while Sudan's Foreign Minister Mariam al-Mahdi also discussed the GERD in Cairo with Sisi and other Egyptian officials, according to Egypt's foreign ministry.