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Nile dam talks hit new impasse

Jan 11, 2021
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CAIRO–Negotiations between Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt, in a long-running dispute over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Blue Nile, have reached a new impasse, the three countries said on Sunday.

Foreign and irrigation ministers of the three nations met online for the second time in a week in efforts to find an agreed approach to resume their talks focused on the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopia Renaissance Dam.

Sunday’s meeting, held over videoconference, failed to find common ground to more forward “because of differences over how to resume the talks and procedural aspects related to the negotiating process,” Egypt’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

Cairo and Addis Ababa rejected the Sudanese proposal, Egypt’s foreign ministry said.

Sudanese Irrigation Minister Yasir Abbas responded in a statement “we cannot continue this vicious cycle of circular talks indefinitely.”

In November, Sudan boycotted talks called by South Africa, the current chairman of the African Union, and argued that the negotiating approach to resolve the dispute proved unfruitful.

Ethiopia sees the dam as key to plans to become Africa’s largest power exporter. Egypt, which gets more than 90% of its scarce fresh water from the Nile, fears the dam could devastate its economy.

Sudan said on Sunday it was concerned the dam could overwhelm its nearby Roseires dam if an agreement is not reached that would allow the countries to share data.

In a foreign ministry statement, Ethiopia said that despite previously insisting on meetings with the African Union experts, Sudan objected to their terms of reference and refused to include the experts in the meeting, effectively halting the talks.

The prolonged dispute between the three countries has continued even after the reservoir behind the $4 billion dam began filling in July.

“Sudan insisted on the assigning of African Union experts to offer solutions to contentious issues … a proposal which Egypt and Ethiopia have reservations about,” Egypt’s foreign ministry said in a statement posted on social media.

Blue Nile dam (AFP)

In its own statement on state news agency SUNA, Sudan said it objected to what it said was a January 8 letter from Ethiopia to the African Union stating that Ethiopia was determined to fill the reservoir for the second year in July with 13.5 million cubic meters of water, whether an agreement is reached or not.

In its own statement posted on the foreign ministry’s social media page, Ethiopia said it “took the initiative immediately to establish an effective and reciprocal data exchange mechanism.”

Relations between Addis Ababa and Khartoum have deteriorated in recent weeks, with clashes reported along their frontier on the sidelines of an Ethiopian military operation in the Tigray region bordering Sudan.

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