The Sudanese-Ethiopian border tensions witnessed rapid developments after the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) reported the killing of a Sudanese citizen and seven army soldiers by Ethiopian armed forces who raided and captured the El Usra area in El Fashaga, El Gedaref, on Wednesday last week. Both parties accuse each other of unacceptable behaviour.
Fierce fighting broke out between the SAF and members of an Ethiopian army base east of Barakat Noreen village last week, the SAF reported. The Ethiopian Foreign Affairs Ministry described the event as skirmishes between the Sudanese army and the local militiamen (known as shifta in the region) on June 22.
In a statement published yesterday, the official SAF spokesperson called the attack “a behaviour that contradicts all the laws and customs of war and international humanitarian law”.
He explained that the Sudanese citizen and seven army soldiers were killed after their capture and that their bodies were shown to Ethiopian citizens.
He added that this situation will not pass without a response and that the armed forces “will respond to this cowardly behaviour as it suits them”.
'The blood of the martyrs will not be wasted. Sudan's response will be atangible reality on the ground' – SAF commander El Burhan
The Chairman of the Sovereignty Council and Commander-in-Chief of the SAF, Lt Gen Abdelfattah El Burhan, said that “the blood of the martyrs will not be wasted” and that the response will be ‘a tangible reality on the ground’. He also stressed that what happened in El Usra in the past days ‘will not be repeated again’.
According to the Sudanese News Agency (SUNA) he instructed his forces to not allow any new movements or encroachments on Sudanese lands or citizens crossing the international border.
A visit of the Chairman of the Sovereignty Council and SAF Commander-in-Chief Lt Gen Abdelfattah El Burhan to El Fashaga on Monday morning also coincided with violent clashes between the SAF and the Ethiopian army as the armed forces launched an attack on an Ethiopian army settlement east of Barakat Noreen village after they received news of the restoration of the Frankincense Castle camp.
Egyptian President Abdelfattah El Sisi expressed his “sincere condolences and sincere sympathy to El Burhan and to the government and brotherly people of the Republic of Sudan” after the death of the Sudanese soldiers.
Many Sudanese parties and organisations condemned the killings and spoke out in support of the SAF in the situation, although many also critiqued the military for being too preoccupied with politics and with the repression of anti-coup protests instead of safeguarding Sudan’s borders and developing the army.
The Sudanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs described what the Ethiopian army had done as a heinous crime and has summoned the Ethiopian ambassador to inform him that the ministry condemns the attacks and reserves its right to respond to the aggression.
The FA Ministry also announced that the Sudanese ambassador to Ethiopia was summoned for consultations and that he is scheduled to arrive in Khartoum on Wednesday.
The ministry said, in a statement yesterday, that it is working on official complaints to the UN Security Council and relevant international and regional organisations about the aggression.
“The Government of Sudan retains the full right guaranteed by the Charter of the United Nations to defend its territory”, the statement said.
'The Government of Sudan retains the full right guaranteed by the Charter of the United Nations to defend its territory' – Sudanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs
The ministry also pointed out that Sudan is currently hosting more than two million Ethiopian refugees, who enjoy decent treatment in the country.
The Supreme Committee to follow up on the Renaissance Dam file called for the need to reach common understandings between Sudan, Ethiopia, and Egypt that take into account the higher strategic interests between the countries.
Ethiopian regrets and accusations
The Ethiopian Foreign Affairs Ministry has expressed its regret over the loss of life after what it described as skirmishes between the Sudanese army and the local militiamen (known as shifta in the region) on June 22 and pledged to conduct an investigation into the incident soon.
In a statement yesterday, the Ethiopian ministry explained that the incident took place inside Ethiopian territory after an incursion of a SAF unit with support from the opposition elements of the Tigray People's Liberation Front.
'It was a unit of the Sudanese army that crossed the Ethiopian border in a provocative manner' – Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
The ministry accused the SAF of ‘distorting the facts’ and ‘unjustly blaming Ethiopia’ and explained that it was a unit of the Sudanese army that crossed the Ethiopian border in a provocative manner.
According to the ministry, the incident was deliberately fabricated to undermine the deep-rooted relations between the Ethiopian and Sudanese peoples.
The Ethiopian government expressed its hope that the Sudanese government will refrain from any escalation of the incident and take measures that will calm the situation.
Closed border crossing
As a result of the recent violence, traders in El Gedaref told Radio Dabanga that the Sudanese authorities have closed the Gallabat border crossing.
Trader El Jumri El Taher said that Sudanese security forces closed the crossing for lorries and other vehicles. He further said that there are quantities of goods owned by Sudanese traders that remain stuck on the Ethiopian side.
Wide Sudanese condemnation
Various political and professional forces and rebel movements also condemned the killing of the civilian and soldiers and considered it contrary to the laws and customs of war and international humanitarian law.
Maryam El Sadig El Mahdi, Vice President of the National Umma Party, responded by saying that the Sudanese people support their national army and stand behind it in carrying out its constitutional duty to protect the borders and sovereignty of the homeland and the security of its citizens.
She called on the regular forces “to end the violent confrontations with their own people, remove their hands from peaceful protest marches, and work to protect the homeland”.
'The Sudanese Armed Forces need to end the violent confrontations with their own people, remove their hands from peaceful protest marches, and work to protect the homeland' – Maryam El Sadig El Mahdi
Omar El Degeir, head of the opposition Sudanese Congress Party, described the killings by the Ethiopian army as ‘shocking and painful news’.
He called on the Ethiopian government to clarify the circumstances of this heinous crime and called on the United Nations and the African Union to investigate the incident and hold those responsible accountable.
The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA) condemned ‘the execution of prisoners from the armed forces of the people and of a civilian’ and considered it a crime in violation of international norms and laws.
In a press statement, the SPA called on the Sudanese army to play the role entrusted to them in protecting the country and its citizens and confronting external aggression.
The association called on the army “to intensively reform the military and security forces and to leave national politics in order to overcome the rupture caused by the October 25 coup”.
'The SAF needs to intensively reform the military and security forces and to leave national politics in order to overcome the rupture caused by the October 25 coup' – SPA
The El Gedaref Resistance Committees organised a protest march and a vigil in front of the Ethiopian Consulate office in El Gedaref on Monday.
The participants in the vigil carried banners condemning the killing of the civilian and the soldiers. They also accused the Sudanese army of ‘turning away from their defensive war missions and being preoccupied with politicising the military institution and abusing ordinary Sudanese people’.
The Resistance Committees also accused the SAF of involving young soldiers in war and defence tasks while they have not been properly trained for such tasks. They lack insight and knowledge of war strategies and the nature of the border areas, “which makes them an easy prey for the enemies of the homeland”.
In Khartoum, journalists and activists plan to organise a protest in front of the Ethiopian embassy to condemn the killings of a civilian and of captured soldiers.
Controversy raged on social media about what happened in El Fashaga as many social media users declared their solidarity with the Sudanese armed forces.
Social media activists however also recalled the June 3 massacre in 2019 in front of the army command in Khartoum in which almost 200 people were killed and at least 100 went missing. They indicated, like many other Sudanese parties, that the army leaders were too preoccupied with politics, instead of paying attention to the development of the military and the protection of borders.
Others questioned the reasons for postponing the publication of the news of the killings, which happened on Wednesday, June 22, and considered it an attempt to influence the announced June 30 Marches of the Millions that condemn the role of the military in Sudan’s politics, especially since the October 25 military coup.
The events of El Fashaga coincided with the difficulty of accessing the Sovereignty Council's Facebook page, which also raised questions.
The attack happened on the same day the Technical Committee for Demarcation of the Administrative Boundaries in Eastern Sudan held a press conference in El Gedaref town.
Head of the committee Moaz Tango said in a press conference in Kassala on Saturday that the committee was formed by the Committee to Address the Situation in Eastern Sudan, which is chaired by the deputy head of the Sovereignty Council and Rapid Support Forces Commander Gen Mohamed Hamdan ‘Hemeti’ Dagalo.
He said that the aim of the administrative demarcation is not to create conflicts, but “to arrange the conditions” t ensure the rights of the various eastern Sudanese tribes living in Red Sea state, Kassala, and El Gedaref.
After the conference last week, the committee announced the formation of a committee in El Gedaref that will restore authentic Sudanese place names in El Fashaga, the area where the killings took place.
The 1,600 kilometres border between Sudan and Ethiopia was drawn in colonial times. No clear demarcation of the border has been made since Sudan became independent in 1956. The lack of clear border markers has made it easy for Ethiopian militants to occupy fertile farmlands in eastern El Gedaref.
Ethiopian farmers have been cultivating crops on border lands belonging to Sudanese farmers for decades. The lands are protected by Ethiopian gunmen (called shifta in the region). Farmers in El Fashaga and the El Gedaref governor have demanded that these lands be returned to them.
In early December 2020, Sudan’s army regained control of a part of the border of El Gedaref after 25 years of skirmishes.
The region however witnessed an increase in cross-border incidents in May this year, which prompted Sudanese authorities to close the crossing between Galabat in El Gedaref and Metema in northern Ethiopia.