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Ethiopian dam talks expected to resume Sunday amid diplomatic tensions

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Ethiopian dam talks expected to resume Sunday amid diplomatic tensions

Meeting over Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) will be first of 2021 after month-long suspension

The parties involved in the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) negotiations are expected to recommence meetings on Sunday under the supervision of the African Union (AU). Last week, the AU called on the three countries involved in the Ethiopian dam negotiations, namely Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan, to resume talks over the disputed technical and legal points of the Ethiopian dam. None of the three parties have so far confirmed their participation.

The latest round of negotiations on the Ethiopian dam was observed by the AU Assembly Bureau, representatives from AU member states, the United States (US), and the European Union (EU).

If held, the Sunday meeting will be the first meeting of 2021 and will come after a year of misunderstanding and disagreement between the involved parties. Tripartite negotiations have also been suspended for more than a month.

The suspension of talks came after Sudan decided not to participate in a ministerial meeting regarding the dam late in November.

Sudan’s Ministry of Irrigation and Water Resources demanded a bigger role for experts under the AU umbrella, to facilitate the negotiations and narrow the gap between the three parties.

“The adopted negotiating method during the past rounds has proved ineffective,” the ministry said in a statement.

Khartoum announced in mid-December that it is ready for talks to resume. Dina Mufti, Spokesperson for Ethiopia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said during the ministry’s weekly press conference on Tuesday, that the upcoming meeting is seen as a “competition of time”.

On Thursday, Sudan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Omar Qamar Al-Din warned Ethiopia not to start the second phase of filling the dam’s reservoir without an agreement with Cairo and Khartoum, “as happened in the first phase of filling”.

Ethiopia announced the beginning of the dam’s first filling on 21 July, without providing notice of the event to downstream countries. Addis Ababa claimed that the filling was due to the heavy rainfall on the Ethiopian plateau.

The expected round of 2021 talks will come amid tensions between the parties as Ethiopia is about to engage in war with Sudan over disputed borders. There are also bilateral diplomatic tensions between Ethiopia and Egypt.

Last week, Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned the Ethiopian Chargé d’Affaires to Cairo to provide clarifications about the latest statements from the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson on Egypt’s internal affairs. The Egyptian ministry described the statements as unacceptable and “flagrant transgression”.

Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia have, under the AU’s auspices, been negotiating over technical and legal issues related to the Ethiopian dam’s filling and operation.

Ethiopia, which started building the dam in 2011, expects to produce more than 6,000 MW of electricity from the project. Meanwhile, Egypt and Sudan, downstream Nile Basin countries that rely on the river for their freshwater needs, are concerned that the dam might affect their water resources.

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