Ethiopia’s Foreign Affairs spokesperson today appeared to duck questions on whether Eritrean troops had been deployed in the restive Oromia region.
In his bi-weekly press briefing on Wednesday, Ambassador Dina Mufti was asked whether Eritrean soldiers had been stationed along the border with the neighboring region of Benishangul Gumuz.
“I don’t have anything to say except what I said two weeks ago,” the ambassador responded. We hope that the agreement we have reached with Eritrea [to withdraw its soldiers from Tigray] will be implemented, and the execution of the agreement is handled with another office.
“You won't get the answer from here,” he added, without referring to a particular government body.
There has been violence in the Oromia region which is forcing members of local communities to flee. Recently, gunmen killed 30 people in an attack on a village in west Oromia.
According to the government, OLF-Shane split from the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), an opposition party that spent years in exile is responsible for the violence in the region.
It comes after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed finally acknowledged the presence of Eritrean forces in the restive Tigray region in a parliamentary address on March 23. This itself came after months of rejecting reports from residents, diplomats and even some military officials.
Following talks with Eritrean President Isayas Afewerki during Abiy’s visit to the capital Asmara on March 26, Eritrea agreed to withdraw its forces from Tigray. The Ethiopian National Defense Force were said to be taking over guarding the border areas effective immediately.
Referring to a separate dispute over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), the foreign affairs spokesperson said: “The solution to the Nile water dispute is not Egypt’s president vaunting or bullying. The solution is a negotiation.”
He hoped that Egypt’s leadership “would follow this path”. But using a Physics analogy, he added that “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has warned this year that “nobody will be permitted to take a single drop of Egypt’s water. Otherwise, the region will fall into unimaginable instability”.
The President also continued with a warning. “I am telling our brothers in Ethiopia, let’s not reach the point where you touch a drop of Egypt’s water because all options are open.”
The grand dam has been a bone of contention between the downstream states of Egypt and Sudan on one side, and the upstream riparians such as Ethiopia on the other.
At stake is the share of the Nile’s flowing waters which stand to relieve Ethiopia of its acute electricity shortage.
Ambassador Dina told journalists that “during a visit to Khartoum months ago when Sudan encountered floods, the Prime Minister told us that if we had already filled the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, the problem would not have happened.”
In August 2020, Sudan had reached the highest levels of Blue Nile on record that caused floods, killing dozens of people, destroying thousands of homes, and encroaching on some neighborhoods in Khartoum's neighborhoods.
It comes as Sudan has requested that the United Nations replace the Ethiopian troops present in the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNIFSA) with peacekeepers from other countries.
According to reports, a top Sudanese diplomat stressed it wasn’t conceivable to have Ethiopian forces deployed in a strategic area of Sudan when Ethiopian troops were also massing on the eastern borders of the country.
Responding to Sudan’s latest request to the UN on Abyei, the ambassador said: “The UN position is decisive.”
Recently Sudan has asked the UN to replace Ethiopian peacekeepers in Abyei – a disputed area between Sudan and South Sudan – with another force from a different country.
Ambassador Dina said “we sent our peacekeepers to Abyei talking to the United Nations and we didn’t force anybody to go there. There are criteria which the UN applies on this issue.”
On the other hand the spokesperson replied to the latest call of Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok to discuss the long-running dispute over Addis Ababa’s mega-dam on the Blue Nile.
He said that “Sudan’s invitation to a closed-door meeting would be evaluated based on its merit, and Ethiopia will react after conducting a study on the matter.”
Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok invited his Egyptian counterpart Mostafa Madbouli and Ethiopian counterpart Abiy Ahmed to a summit within ten days to evaluate the negotiations regarding GERD.