Sudan said Sunday it has ordered its envoy to Ethiopia home for consultations after a government spokesperson in Addis Ababa rejected a Sudanese initiative to mediate a cease-fire in the Tigray war and accused it of occupying Ethiopian territory.
The move announced in a Foreign Ministry statement was the latest sign of deteriorating ties between the African neighbors. The tensions began after Sudan deployed troops late last year to the fertile al-Fashaga border area it says was occupied for over two decades by Ethiopian farmers and militias.
Billene Seyoum, spokesperson for Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, said Thursday that ties with Sudan have been "a little 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 leaders.
The conflict erupted in Tigray in November after a falling out between Ahmed and the Tigray ruling party that had dominated Ethiopia’s 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 aims at encouraging Ethiopian parties to reach a comprehensive cease-fire and to engage in political dialogue to "preserve Ethiopia’s integrity and stability.”
"Sudan’s interest in resolving the Tigray region's conflict is part of its commitment to regional peace and stability,” the statement said. There was no immediate comment from Ethiopia on Sunday.
In February, Sudan ordered Ambassador Gamal al-Sheikh home from Ethiopia after it accused Ethiopian troops of crossing into Sudan and warned of "grave repercussions” on the region’s security and stability.
Al-Sheikh returned to Addis Ababa weeks later. The Tigray war has killed thousands of people and pushed the area to the brink of famine. More than 60,000 people have also fled Tigray and taken refuge in Sudan.
The decadeslong border dispute between Sudan and Ethiopia centers on large swaths of agricultural land Sudan says are within its borders in the al-Fashaga area, according an agreement that demarcated the borders between the two nations in the early 1900s.
The two nations have held rounds of talks, most recently in Khartoum in December, to settle the dispute, but have not made progress. The dispute has escalated in recent months after Sudan deployed troops to al-Fashaga. Sudan said it reclaimed 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 taking advantage of the Tigray conflict region to enter Ethiopian territory. It has called for Sudanese troops to return to their positions before the Tigray fighting erupted in November.