On December 5th, in Ethiopia, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s forces said that the fighting is close to over after a week passed since the government troops captured Tigray region’s capital Mekelle.
They wrestled control from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
The fighting has now lasted for over a month, having started on November 4th, and it is estimated that it killed thousands of people and driven some 46,000 refugees into neighboring Sudan.
The central government is claiming that the fighting is near over, while TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael told Reuters that fighting outside the city was still on-going.
He said federal forces bombed the town of Abbi Adi on December 4th, without giving further details, while a TPLF spokesman accused government troops of looting in Mekelle.
“(They are) looting civilian properties, hotels and damaging factories after looting,” the spokesman Getachew Reda told a TPLF-owned TV station.
Most communications in Tigray are down and access to the area is severely restricted, making it hard to verify either side’s statements.
The Central government has also not given any form of comment.
Also, on December 4th, Army Colonel Shambel Beyene said that government forces were 10 km away from a forest in the Gore area where Debretsion, Getachew and other TPLF members were thought to be hiding.
“We will only need a few days to get to them,” he said
Abiy’s government has said it will protect civilians in the northern region and ensure their needs are met.
“Work to rebuild Tigray has commenced with teams … undertaking repair work (and) restoring services,” the prime minister said.
Sudan is struggling with the crisis that’s been caused by Ethiopian refugees crossing into its territory.
On November 24th, the official representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Babar Baloch said that upwards of 40,000 refugees had ran to Sudan for asylum.
“Last weekend alone, more than 5,000 refugees from Ethiopia crossed the eastern border of Sudan,” Reuters quoted him as saying.
In turn, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet called on the parties to the conflict in Tigray to conduct their actions “in accordance with international laws.”
A new conflict in Ethiopia on the Sudan border, some experts believe, threatens the country’s hybrid civil-military leadership with exacerbated internal disputes and increased foreign interference in an already fragile democratic transition. Sudan is today governed by a technocratic government led by a military-civilian governing body known as the Sovereign Council, which spearheads the transition to a democratic civilian government until 2022.
Following nationwide protests against his 30-year rule, President Omar al-Bashir was ousted by the military in April 2019 and replaced by the Transitional Military Council.
Further protests demanding an end to military rule and massacres that killed more than 100 protesters in Khartoum led to a 39-month transition agreement between Transitional Military Council and the Forces of Freedom and Change civilian alliance on July 5, 2019.
The current split and political uncertainty in the country has prompted attempts by regional and large security services to turn Sudan into the center of their counterintelligence and intelligence efforts, which is already being recorded by the local special services.
In fact, Sudan is at the forefront of fierce competition between the UAE and Saudi Arabia on the one hand and Qatar and Turkey on the other.
There is also another tension between Egypt and Ethiopia, which are using Sudan in proxy war against each other.
In addition, Sudan is already the target of aggressive international intervention due to the conflict of interests of the regional axes, with competition between the United States and the EU on the one hand and China and Russia on the other.
Former American diplomat and senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, Cameron Hudson, said Sudan is struggling to maintain its independence over its regional positions as powerful states pressure its new government.
“Sudan has been struggling for some time to manage its foreign relations with larger and more powerful states that are all interested in an ultimate political outcome in Sudan. We see this in the UAE helping to push the Israeli [normalization] deal. We see this in Egypt advancing its views on the Renaissance Dam talks,” said Hudson, who is also the former chief of staff of the US Special Envoy to Sudan at the US State Department.
Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt have found themselves embroiled in a bitter dispute over the filling and operation of Ethiopia’s Great Renaissance Dam, which remains unresolved, although the reservoir behind the dam began filling in July.
Negotiations between the parties are at an impasse, with Egypt and Sudan insisting that binding agreements are needed to ensure their future interests and water security, which must be negotiated before the filling process begins.
In addition, the nascent conflict in the Ethiopian region of Tigray, bordering the already troubled East Sudan, has opened a new front of tension for the country. Sudanese officials expect up to 200,000 refugees to leave the conflict area and go to Sudan.
Sudanese political analyst Abdul Galil Suleiman warned that fighting in Tigray threatens not only Sudan, but the entire region, including Ethiopia, Eritrea and South Sudan.
“The fighting is taking place in the strategically important city of Humra, which is located in the middle of the border between Ethiopia, Sudan and Eritrea. The main Tigray tribes actually live in three countries, so this war is already regional in nature if we look at the demographics of the region, but it is also politically linked to the interests of the three countries and beyond,” he said.
He also sees this conflict as a potential threat to stability in the entire Horn of Africa. Thus, the current fighting in the Ethiopian Tigray region could potentially have a significant impact on the political situation in Sudan.
“Now we see a potential crisis in neighboring Ethiopia, which could seriously exacerbate the ongoing instability in the eastern regions of Sudan,” said Hudson.
Eastern Sudan itself has recently been the scene of massive protests, when demonstrators last month blocked the country’s largest port, Port Sudan, and called for independence from Khartoum, as indigenous tribes objected to a peace deal brokered by the government, which they said excluded their vote.
In addition, there is serious competition between the military and civilian components of the transitional government.
According to two Sudanese sources, Egyptian and Sudanese generals are seeking to pressure Ethiopia, which maintains a civilian component led by Prime Minister Hamdok, to influence the dam talks. The military part is led by the commander of the armed forces Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan
“There is a strong hidden rift between the military and civilians in Sudan over the conflicts in Ethiopia and the alleged involvement of Egypt and Eritrea in recent tensions in Tigray,” the sources said on condition of anonymity. As part of this practice, the Egyptians recently opened their stationary reconnaissance point in Khartoum.
“It is obvious that Egypt supports al-Burkhan and Ethiopia supports Hamdok, but this is also motivated by other interests of Ethiopia and Egypt in Sudan, as well as the conflict over the dam, since both countries want Sudan on their side in these difficult negotiations.”
The situation is such, the Ethiopian central government needs to quickly deal with the situation and restore some semblance of normality, and an end to hostilities, since it not only threatens balance inside the country, but also strongly affects Sudan, and potentially the entire region.
Sudan is a field in which various interests clash, and they pursue their own goals, with the political and military leadership operating in some sort of dysfunctional symbiosis. This, alone, provides the possibility for quite a bit of chaos, without the addition of refugees, calls for independence from Eastern Sudan, and more.
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