Tension Fueled at Sudanese-Ethiopian Borders… Is War Looming?

Armed Crowds, Exchange of Accusations, Mass Displacement

Tension Fueled at Sudanese-Ethiopian Borders… Is War Looming?

The military and political tension between Sudan and Ethiopia has recently escalated amid an acceleration of events and growing internal conflict in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia’s recent escalation may be aimed at transferring the internal conflict to the border with Sudan, in an attempt to reduce tension that has turned into a bloody conflict between the warring sides.

The current situation led to waves of mass displacement towards neighboring Sudan, as thousands of Tigrayans have fled to the Sudanese border cities, which are unprepared to receive the displaced from Ethiopia.

The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which has been in a one-year long ongoing conflict with Ethiopian government, has begun its public tactical withdrawal from the positions over which it had previously taken control on the borders of the capital. This step comes following Addis Ababa’s recent declaration that it has restored control over Kombolcha city, north of the capital.

The government said its forces have recaptured the strategic towns of Dessie and Kombolcha, their latest territorial gains in the battle against fighters from the northern Tigray region, Ethiopian media reported.

It also announced intercepting an attack by the TPLF as well as its liberation of four cities in Amhara and Afar states from the militants.

Media reports indicate there are armed clashes between the army and Tigrayan fighters on the borders of the Afar region with Tigray and Amhara.

The joint forces of Afar and the Ethiopian army have recaptured all the areas controlled by the TPLF militants, the Afar government announced in a statement, noting that the Ethiopian military played a major role in this advance on the ground.

The roads linking Afar and Tigray were also recaptured. The Ethiopian army spokesman said the capital, Addis Ababa, is safe and so are the strategic roads leading to it.

Renewed Warnings

The US embassy in Addis Ababa renewed warnings to US citizens and urged them to leave Ethiopia immediately, while commercial flight options are still available. It earlier announced that it is unlikely to be able to assist its citizens to depart if commercial flights become unavailable, affirming that its diplomatic engagement continues. The security situation in the country remains concerning and may deteriorate without warning, it warned.

“We, Australia, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States, are profoundly concerned by recent reports of the Ethiopian government’s detention of large numbers of Ethiopian citizens on the basis of their ethnicity and without charge,” a joint statement has read. It reiterated the call for all parties to seize the opportunity to negotiate a sustainable ceasefire without preconditions, stressing that all those responsible for violations and abuses of human rights must be held accountable.

Observers have expressed concern over the military deployment on the borders, whether through official armies or militias, leading to a state of instability caused by both countries. The official national army forces, the Amhara militias and the Eritrean Defense Forces are all deployed on the Ethiopian side of the border, while the Rapid Support Forces of the Sudanese army and local militias are deployed on their side of the border.

Head of the Sudanese Sovereign Council Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. (Reuters file Photo)

International Concern

The United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Martin Griffiths, warned that Ethiopia risks descending into sectarian violence that could “fracture” the country’s fabric and experience a chaotic Kabul-style mass displacement if the year-long conflict spreads to the capital, Addis Ababa.

The international statements and concerns coincided with a statement by TPLF Commander Lieutenant General Tadesse Werede Tesfay, in which he stressed his forces were preparing for a major attack that would end the battle with the government forces.

Humanitarian Tragedies

A study conducted by TRENDS Research and Advisory on the regional impacts of the dangers of the Tigray war in northern Ethiopia on Sudan has monitored the escape of more than 90,000 Tigrayans to Sudan and the interruption of humanitarian aid access to about 80 percent of the region’s six million people.

The study indicated the concern about the mass displacements within Sudan, as millions of people have been displaced and could cause chaos and humanitarian tragedies to the already drained country due to decades of conflict and political tension.

The continuous Ethiopian accusations against Sudan of interfering in the Tigray crisis may indicate an increase in the continuing tension led by Addis Ababa which began last August after Khartoum summoned its ambassador in Ethiopia for consultations in response to the Ethiopian accusations of not being neutral in mediating the Tigray conflict.

The study monitored the aggravation of the Al-Fashqa crisis after the Sudanese army expelled the Amharic militias from it.  Ethiopia considered this to be an escalation by Sudan which has caused increased instability and an attempt to change the reality on the ground.

Ethiopia has repeatedly accused Sudan of interfering in the Tigray conflict, which indicates an increase in the tension led by Addis Ababa. In August, Sudan recalled its ambassador to Ethiopia, frustrated by the stance of Ethiopian officials whom it said were refusing Sudan’s offer to mediate in the ongoing conflict in Tigray. Ethiopia rejected Sudan's mediation, arguing that it was a “biased party.”

False Accusations

Commenting on Ethiopia’s official accusation against Sudan of supporting the TPLF, Sudanese analyst Khalid al-Tijani said they are “false.” He affirmed that Khartoum does not support the front against Addis Ababa since it has no interest in providing military support to any Ethiopian faction.

He further denied statements by Ethiopian authorities on Sudan’s occupation of Ethiopian lands.

Ethiopia does not have the right to consider al-Fashaqa region its land, Tijani stressed, adding that it is Sudanese under the 1902 agreements, which Addis Ababa rejects and claims are colonial treaties.

Addis Ababa should be aware that all that takes place on its territories affects its neighbors, especially Sudan which always pays the price of the Ethiopian conflict, Tijani noted.

“Thousands of Ethiopian refugees have fled towards Sudan as a result of the Tigray conflict, without the support of any of the international organizations,” the analyst explained, adding that Khartoum has endured all these economic hardships despite its own problems.

Tijani called on the Ethiopian government to address the matter wisely in order to maintain stability.

In his response to Ethiopia’s accusation against Khartoum of adding international pressure due to its position on Addis Ababa, Tijani said the issue is complicated, especially after US President Joe Biden took office and the Democrats exerted strong pressure on Addis Ababa.

“The international pressures certainly come in line with the existing international situation,” Tijani said.

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) is one of the main causes of dispute between Sudan and Ethiopia. (Reuters)

Declaration of War

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s recent decision to head towards Addis Ababa’s northeastern front and lead soldiers in battle is considered a declaration of war.

According to the TPLF spokesperson, this war won’t bring any good and is a step backwards from attaining peace.

Abiy's statement came as the TPLF group and its allies continued to press towards Addis Ababa, claiming control of the town of Shewa Robit, just 220 kilometers (136 miles) northeast of the capital by road.

Analysts and politicians expected this civil war to be waged in Ethiopia due to the border disputes among the regions and the well known ethnic division among the 11 regions surrounding Addis Ababa. These include Tigray, Afar and Benishangul in the north, Gambela in the east, and Oromia in the south, in addition to Somalia, Dire Dawa and Harar.

Spark of a Conflict

Tension had sparked after regional leaders objected to the Ethiopian federal government’s decision to postpone the elections last year, as well as the government’s holding internal elections without involving the regions.

This step had exacerbated the situation and increased tension towards the government. Several regions declared war against it, led by commander of Tigrayan rebel forces General Tsadkan Gebretensae, a former general in the Ethiopian army. Gebretensae regained control of the capital of Tigray and formed a new government in the region before announcing an alliance with opposition groups to overthrow the Addis Ababa government.

The Tigray movement was not the only rebel group but was the most organized one. Other groups were formed as a result of the tension, ethnicity and hate speech among various parties.

Several Conflicts

The conflict between Tigray, which is backed by several allies, and the Ethiopian government is not the only one that exists in the Ethiopian region.

Another conflict has been ongoing to control various towns between the Afar and Somali regions northeast of the country, including Gedamaytu, also known as Gabraiisa.

Afar armed factions took advantage of the situation and attacked their neighbors in Gabraiisa, causing deaths, injuries and the displacement of thousands of people from the region.

The Afar front was no less tense, especially with Tigray’s attempts to advance east to control the road and the railway between Addis Ababa and the ports of Djibouti, which constitute the main crossing point for the majority of international trade traffic with Ethiopia.

Economic Indicator

Several international companies investing in Ethiopia have recently withdrawn  after US President Joe Biden announced Addis Ababa would be deprived of commercial benefits that fall under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) due to its gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.

The AGOA is the landmark 2000 pact that removed US duties on most exports from sub-Saharan Africa as long as they adhere to good governance and human rights standards.

Biden’s decision hit the promising Ethiopian economy hard despite previous indications of its rapid growth and being one of the most encouraging economies on the African continent.

Western countries also called on their citizens to leave Ethiopia immediately as a result of the acceleration of events and the cycle of violence, which is expected to intensify after Ahmed urged citizens to take up arms to defend themselves and the country against the TPLF.

The PM’s demand indicates the extent of military and security chaos in Addis Ababa, in line with the activity of armed militias and multiple ethnic movements in various Ethiopian regions.

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