Sudan said on Sunday it had ordered its envoy to Ethiopia’s home for consultation after a government spokesman in Addis Ababa rejected a Sudanese initiative to mediate a ceasefire in the Tigray War, accusing it of occupying Ethiopian territory.
The move announced in a statement from the Foreign Ministry was the latest sign of deteriorating relations between the African neighbors. Tensions began after Sudan deployed troops to the fertile border area of Al-Fashaga at the end of last year, which it says had been occupied for more than two decades by Ethiopian farmers and militias.
Billene Seyoum, a spokeswoman for Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, said on Thursday that relations with Sudan had been “a bit tricky” and accused Khartoum of occupying Ethiopian territory – a reference to al-Fashaga. She said Sudan was not a “credible party” to facilitate negotiations between Ahmed’s government and Tigray’s leaders.
The conflict erupted in Tigray in November after a fall between Ahmed and the Tigray ruling party that had dominated the Ethiopian government for nearly three decades.
The growing war has threatened to destabilize the entire Horn of Africa. Sudan’s Foreign Ministry said Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok’s initiative was aimed at encouraging Ethiopian parties to reach a comprehensive ceasefire and conducting a political dialogue to “preserve Ethiopia’s integrity and stability.”
“Sudan’s interest in resolving the conflict in the Tigray region is part of its commitment to regional peace and stability,” the statement said. There were no immediate comments from Ethiopia on Sunday.
In February, Sudan Ambassador Gamal al-Sheikh ordered Ethiopia home after accusing Ethiopian troops of entering Sudan and warning of “serious consequences” for the region’s security and stability.
Al-Sheikh returned to Addis Ababa weeks later. The Tigray War has killed thousands of people and driven the area to the brink of famine. More than 60,000 people have also fled Tigray and taken refuge in Sudan.
The decades-long border dispute between Sudan and Ethiopia concerns large portions of agricultural land that Sudan says lies within its borders in the al-Fashaga area, according to an agreement that demarcated the borders between the two nations in the early 20th century.
The two nations have held talks, most recently in Khartoum in December, to resolve the dispute, but have not made progress. The dispute has escalated in recent months after Sudan sent troops to al-Fashaga. Sudan said it was taking back most of its territory and called on Ethiopia to withdraw troops from at least two points it says are inside Sudan.
Ethiopian officials, however, accused Sudan of using the Tigray conflict region to enter Ethiopian territory. It has called on Sudanese troops to return to their positions before the Tigray fighting breaks out in November.