El Gedaref — Farmers living in eastern El Gedaref demand their lands back. The farms have been occupied by Ethiopians for decades.
In a memorandum handed to Maj Gen Nasreldin Abdelgayoum, Governor of El Gedaref, on Thursday, the farmers called on the Sovereign Council and the Council of Ministers to intervene and return their lands occupied by Ethiopian farmers, provide protection against Ethiopian forces, and stop the recurrent assaults on people living close to the border.
The farmers urged the closure of the Sudanese-Ethiopian border, and the Ethiopian consulate in El Gedaref.
They also call for the continuation of the military patrolling the borders, in addition to development projects in the area.
Governor Abdelgayoum described the demands as legitimate. "The establishment of clear border markers is the perfect solution to finalise the border file between Sudan and Ethiopia," he said.
The governor added that the relation with Ethiopia "remains mutually beneficial and strong".
Demarcation not clear
The 1,600 kilometres border between Sudan and Ethiopia was drawn in colonial times but it has never been clearly demarcated since both countries became independent. The lack of clear border markers has made it easy for Ethiopian militants to occupy fertile farmlands in eastern El Gedaref.
In particular in El Fashaga locality, Ethiopian farmers have been annually cultivating their crops for decades. The lands are mostly protected by Ethiopian gunmen (shifta*).
In February, the governor of El Gedaref visited his Ethiopian counterpart in the bordering Amhara region, following an increase in attacks by Ethiopian gunmen on Sudanese living at the border. They agreed to let Sudanese and Ethiopian security forces cooperate in patrolling the border.
When the attacks continued, the country's new government deployed army troops at the border with Ethiopia in end March - contrary to the ousted regime of Omar Al Bashir that ignored complaints about violence in the area.
The conflicts seemed to get out of control when gunmen, supported by Ethiopian army troops, killed a Sudanese army officer in El Gedaref's El Gureisha locality in end May. Ensuing clashes between Sudanese and Ethiopian army soldiers caused at least 6,000 people in the area to flee their homes.
The Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs reacted by stating that "there is no honourable reason for the two countries to descend into hostility". Khartoum and Addis Ababa should use "diplomacy as a means of resolving the border dispute".
In mid-June, Deputy Chairman of the Sovereign Council and Commander of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, Mohamed Hamdan 'Hemeti', visited the Ethiopian capital to discuss bilateral issues, including the building of the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam at the source of the Blue Nile.
Radio Dabanga reported in end June however that the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) pushed back an attack of the Ethiopian army in El Fashaga. Military leaders of both countries agreed again to restrain their forces.
* Shifta is a term used throughout East Africa for a rebel, gunman, or bandit.
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