The threat of a new outbreak of conflict between Ethiopia and Sudan - over control of the al-Fashaga border region - appears to have resurfaced again following the alleged killing of seven Sudanese soldiers and one civilian by Ethiopian troops. In response, Khartoum forces on Tuesday announced the launch of an offensive against the Addis Ababa forces along the disputed border region.
Sudanese troops are "advancing towards the last point of the international border between Sudan and Ethiopia", military sources in Khartoum told the specialised media Al-Sharq, "and have recaptured the area of Qala' al-Labban, inside Sudanese territory".
This line of action was already outlined after Monday's visit by the President of the Sovereign Council of Sudan, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, to various points in al-Fashaga, where he warned his troops not to allow "further movements or invasions of Sudanese territories or against Sudanese citizens up to the international border line", after having presented his condolences to the military deployed in the region.
"Ethiopian militias, backed by the army, have repeatedly kidnapped citizens for ransom in areas of Al-Osra and Wood Cole over the past few months," local sources said. But Fattah al-Burhan sought to defuse tempers, pledging the military's determination, "which will support the Armed Forces to enable them to fulfil their duty to protect the land and honour", and insisting that "the blood of the victims will not have run in vain".
"The response will be a tangible reality on the ground," the Sudanese Sovereign Council president said. A warning that became evident soon after with Ethiopian-Sudanese shelling and clashes in al-Fashaga, reaching the neighbouring regions of Al-Asira Galia al-Uban, Birkar Nourain and Gumaiza, where important Ethiopian military groups are concentrated, as reported by the Middle East Eye. "Battles are ongoing as the (Sudanese) forces continue to advance towards Ethiopia's borders," military sources told Al-Sharq.
This recent military, political and diplomatic escalation of tensions between Khartoum and Addis Ababa - whose roots go back more than two decades - was triggered by the killing of seven Sudanese military personnel and one civilian, allegedly by Ethiopian soldiers.
Meanwhile, the Sudanese authorities swiftly condemned the incident, "immediately" recalled their ambassador to Ethiopia for consultations, summoned the representative of Ethiopian diplomacy in Khartoum and referred the case to the UN Security Council, which they called on "to fulfil its responsibility to maintain security in the Horn of Africa".
Addis Ababa, for its part, has denied responsibility for the executions and, through its Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has pointed out that the "tragic incident" occurred within its territory after Sudanese troops organised an attack in coordination with "elements of the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF)", a group opposed to the central government. Although Ethiopia has urged "de-escalation of the situation", some of its officials have accused Khartoum of using the situation for "propaganda and to cover its intelligence war" against the country.
Indeed, some analysts believe that this escalation of tensions could also have, as another major strategic cause, the third filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam scheduled for July. This project is intended to boost the country's development, but is seen by countries such as Sudan and Egypt as a major threat to their water supply from the Nile River.
The al-Fashaga region has been the scene of ongoing low-intensity tensions and clashes for decades, but the outbreak of the Ethiopian conflict in Tigray in November 2020 prompted the deployment of Sudanese forces in territories they had not controlled for more than 25 years. Moreover, 'the island' (as the local population euphemistically calls al-Fashaga) is surrounded by three small rivers and represents one of the most fertile and flat agricultural regions in the Horn. More than a million hectares of land have, until a few years ago, been 'de facto' controlled by thousands of Ethiopian farmers who settled there decades ago.