Sudan’s head of state and top soldier vowed to defend to the last man a border strip his forces recently wrested from Ethiopian control after decades of occupation.
“It was never expected that it will come to that between us and our Ethiopian neighbours, but the party that started it must suffer the consequences,” Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan said in one of several addresses he gave on Wednesday during a lightning visit to eastern Sudan’s border region.
His comments were released by the Sudanese military hours after his return to Khartoum that evening.
Gen Al Burhan’s visit to Al Fashqa fuelled tension between the two African neighbours, nudging them closer to the prospect of an all-out war.
“We have been patient for too long and we have been suffering in silence, but everything has its limits. This is our right and our land and we will all die defending it,” said Gen Al Burhan, wearing military fatigues.
“Be entirely certain that we will never budge and we will never surrender our land ever again.”
The border crisis is also likely to compound the deadlock plaguing negotiations between the two, plus Egypt, over a disputed Nile dam being built by Ethiopia and which Sudan sees as a threat to its own security.
Al Fashqa is within Sudan’s international boundaries, but had long been settled by Ethiopian farmers from the country’s powerful Amhara group due to the porous nature of the border.
The area saw weeks of clashes between forces from both sides late last year, but the latest flare up was sparked by the killing on Monday of five Sudanese women and a child that Sudan blamed on a government-backed militia from Ethiopia. Two Sudanese women remain missing since the raid.
Gen Al Burhan’s comments were met with cheers of Allahu Akbar, or God is great, by watching soldiers and residents. Images released by the military showed him touring the region while standing on the back of an all-terrain pickup truck.
His comments came just hours before Sudan’s Foreign Ministry warned of “dangerous consequences” after an Ethiopian warplane breached Sudanese airspace over the border region.
Also on Thursday, a high-level Sudanese military delegation flew to neighbouring Egypt where, according to an Egyptian presidential statement, it briefed President Abdel Fattah El Sisi on the “latest on the current tension along the Sudabese-Ethiopian border.” The statement gave no further details.
Egypt, Sudan’s longtime on-and-off ally, has been forging close ties with the Sudanese military in recent months. The two militaries recently held joint war games and exchanged high-level visits and Cairo has repeatedly vowed to stand by Sudan militarily and economically.
Ethiopia had its own set of stern warnings for Sudan this week.
On Tuesday, it told Khartoum it was running out of patience with its continued military buildup in the border region.
“The Sudanese side seems to be pushing in so as to inflame the situation on the ground,” Ethiopian foreign ministry spokesman Dina Mufti said. “Is Ethiopia going to start a war? Well, we are saying let’s work on diplomacy.”
Ethiopia also accuses the Sudanese military of infiltrating its territory, saying Sudan was seeking to take advantage of its ongoing fight against separatist rebels in the northern region of Tigray. The fighting there has forced at least 60,000 people to flee their homes and seek refuge in Sudan.
Sudan has denied the infiltration charges.
“The land is Sudanese no matter what anyone says,” Gen Al Burhan said on Wednesday, promising civilians living in the border area that his forces will protect them. “You will stay here and you will live in security,” he said.
Sudan and Ethiopia have long had problems along their border, whose demarcation was determined in agreements reached in 1902 and reaffirmed in 1972. A joint committee set up last month to resolve the border dispute has failed to make any progress, according to the Sudanese government.
The two countries are also bound by close cultural ties but, in various conflicts since the 1950s, both sides have supported rebel groups fighting the other’s government.
Updated: January 14, 2021 09:00 PM