Prime Minister Abiy of Ethiopia Meets Sudan’s Army Chief on Red Sea Coast

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Earlier Today, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed visited Sudan’s army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan in Port Sudan, making him the first foreign leader to do so since the conflict between the army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) began in April of 2023. Perceived as aligning more closely with the RSF, Ethiopia previously hosted its leader, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo alongside former transitional leader Hamdock, and the Sudanese democratic civil alliance known as Taqaddum in Addis Ababa last December. 

Last year, one of Burhan’s deputies accused Ethiopian forces of supporting the RSF. Abiy’s current meeting with Al-Burhan is thus a step towards fostering good relations with both sides, while seeking stability in Sudan, following nearly 15 months of destructive fighting.

The conflict between Sudanese military factions is one of the biggest crises in the world now, on par with the war in Ukraine and Gaza in its destructive nature. It has displaced nearly 10 million people, triggered famine-like conditions in some areas, and posed a threat to regional stability.

Efforts to mediate a ceasefire in Jeddah, led by Saudi Arabia and the United States, hit a stalemate last year, and attempts to bring the army back to the negotiating table have been unsuccessful. The two warring sides are farther apart than at any point, with prospects of peace fading.

In the meantime, RSF appears to be making advances. On Friday, it declared the capture of Al-Dinder in Sennar state for the second time within a week, following intense battles with the Sudanese army and allied armed groups.

Images depict the Sudanese and Ethiopian leaders, Burhan and Abiy, sharing a laugh and camaraderie upon Abiy’s visit. Abiy’s office described the visit as part of a broader initiative to seek sustainable solutions for Sudan’s stability.

According to a source familiar with the situation, Abiy believes being physically present in Sudan enhances his prospects for achieving a breakthrough.

The visit comes on the heels of an RSF assault on Sennar state, which brought the conflict nearer to Sudan’s border with Ethiopia. There are indications that the RSF is advancing into Gedaref state, home to over 600,000 displaced Sudanese as well as tens of thousands of Ethiopian refugees. Ethiopian authorities voiced concern about the safety of these refugees and their possible relocation to a safer zone.

Speaking in front of Ethiopia’s Parliament last week, Prime Minister Abiy said, “the survival of Sudan itself is at risk, and it is in the national interest of Ethiopia to see the war end —while the world looks away, we must confront the crisis head-on for the sake of peace in our region”.

Sudan Tribune has been reporting the presence of Ethiopian Fano militia in the contested Al-Fashaga region between the two nations. There was also speculation Ethiopia’s federal government was covertly backing the Fano takeover of Al Fashga, while simultaneously signaling peace. However, these rumors appear to be false, not only due to recent splits between Fano and the federal government of Ethiopia, but also in response, the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated the government’s stance of not exploiting the crisis in Sudan to settle scores, affirming neutrality towards all parties involved. In late 2020, Sudan took advantage of internal conflict in Ethiopia to forecibly reclaim much of the historically disputed territory, displacing Ethiopian faming communities in the process.

The Al-Fashga Triangle is a historically disputed territory between Ethiopia and Sudan.

Abiy’s trip to Port Sudan marks a notable development despite previous tensions with the army. It places Ethiopia as a possible neutral arbiter towards ending the conflict, something that has so far eluded many would be peacemakers.

Abiy also maintains close ties with the United Arab Emirates, which has been widely accused of providing logistical support to the RSF—a claim denied by the UAE but deemed credible by U.N. experts.

As per recent report by U.S News, Alan Boswell, Director of Crisis Group’s Horn of Africa project said, “The key question for many observers is whether Abiy can position himself as a mediator between Burhan and the UAE or facilitate some kind of communication between them”.

So far Ethiopia has managed to stay neutral, avoiding the temptation to settle scores on the disputed Al-Fashaga territories. In addition, it continues to supply Sudan with cheap electric power, despite not being paid due to difficult circumstance.

Nonetheless, observers worry Ethiopia’s mediation efforts will be viewed with suspicion in Egypt, which has fully backed Al Burhan’s SAF against the RSF. Egypt and Ethiopia continue to haggle over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which now controls a significant portion of the Nile river water flow. Despite the two nations’ rivalries however, both sides would benefit from a peaceful Sudan.

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