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Sudan slams 'illegal' Egypt oil exploration in disputed Red Sea area

Khartoum warns of consequences over Cairo's offering of oil and gas exploration blocks in the Halayeb Triangle
In January, Sisi, right, said 'Egypt fully supports the security and stability of Sudan, which is integral to Egypt's national security' (AFP)

Sudan has warned against an "illegal" offering of oil and gas exploration blocks by Egypt in the Red Sea area of Halayeb, a territory claimed by both countries.

Egypt's occupation of the Halayeb Triangle, which lies in a mineral-rich border region of the Red Sea, has been a bone of contention for years between Cairo and Khartoum despite an overall improvement in ties since an October summit.

"This is an illegal operation that could face legal consequences for the parties that are involved in carrying it out," Saad el-Deen el-Bushra, Sudan's minister of state for oil and gas, said in a statement on Wednesday carried by the official SUNA news agency.

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On 10 March, Egypt's South Valley Egyptian Petroleum Holding Company invited bids for 10 oil and gas exploration blocks in what it said were Egyptian territorial waters in the Red Sea. 

It did not specify the exact location of the offered blocks.

"Announcing four of those blocks inside the Sudanese territory of Halayeb is a direct intrusion into Sudan's oil and gas ministry's authority of granting licenses for such explorations in this area," Bushra said.

"I'm calling on all companies, consultants and study groups to stop their activities in this area or else they will face legal consequences."

Bushra said Khartoum was ready for joint exploration work in that area but only under an agreement between the two countries.

The Halayeb triangle, which is controlled by Egypt, has been claimed by Sudan since the 1950s.

Egyptian support for Bashir

Relations between Cairo and Khartoum had plunged in early 2017 when Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir accused Egypt of supporting rebels in conflict zones, including Darfur in western Sudan.

In May 2017, Sudan banned the import of animal and other agricultural products from Egypt.

But in October, Sudan lifted the ban as ties improved following talks in Khartoum between Bashir and his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

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Egypt has this year repeatedly called for stability in its southern neighbour after protests erupted on December 19 against Bashir's rule of three decades.

"Egypt fully supports the security and stability of Sudan, which is integral to Egypt's national security," Sisi said in January.

Deadly protests have rocked Sudan since December following a government decision to triple the price of bread.

The protests turned into nationwide demonstrations against Bashir's rule, with protesters calling on him to step down.

Bashir has remained defiant and imposed a nationwide state of emergency on February 22.