Khartoum / Kassala — Sudanese authorities announced on Tuesday the deployment of ‘huge military reinforcements’ to Hamdayet in Kassala, as clashes intensify between the Ethiopian army and opposition Tigrayan Front forces near Sudan’s eastern border.Organisations operating near the Sudanese-Ethiopian border have been ordered to vacate the area.
According to Sudan Tribune, the Sudanese government have urged humanitarian aid organisations to evacuate their reception centres at Hamdayet, that serve Ethiopian refugees over heightened safety concerns brought by the clashes.
Aid agencies present in the area include Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Plan Sudan, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), Muslim Aid, and the Child Welfare Council.
Since renewed fighting broke out in early September, dozens of refugees from Ethiopia, including military personnel, have crossed into Sudan. According to UNHCR, there are already more than 73,000 Ethiopian refugees living in Sudan, most of whom, fled the fighting in late 2020 and live in permanent camps established in Um Rakouba and El Tuneidiba in El Gedaref.
Earlier this week, the Eritrean government reportedly dispatched troops to fight alongside the Ethiopian army.
The border area that divides Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea has been one of the epicentres of the recent clashes. Last Thursday, a Tigrayan Front spokesperson for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front said Ethiopian and Eritrean forces are leading an offensive against their positions in north-eastern Ethiopia.
The Ethiopian government has accused Tigrayan forces of sparking the recent escalation. Tigray’s leaders deny this and blame Ethiopian and Eritrean forces. The US government’s Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa arrived in Ethiopia earlier this week in a bid to half the escalating conflict.
Unfruitful negotiations surrounding the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), the tens of thousands of refugees that have crossed into Sudan following the outbreak of the Tigrayan war in 2020, and the disputes over border farmland have soured diplomatic relations between Sudan and Ethiopia.
Ethiopian farmers have cultivated crops on border lands belonging to Sudanese farmers for decades. The lands are protected by Ethiopian gunmen (called shifta in the region).
After several clashes with Ethiopian gunmen in eastern El Gedaref, the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) reclaimed areas in El Fashaga near the Ethiopian border in December 2020, after 25 years of absence.
The shifta however, still conduct violent cross-border raids to steal crops and livestock, or abduct people for ransom.
The 1,600-kilometre border between Sudan and Ethiopia was established during colonial times. No clear demarcation of the border has been made since Sudan became independent in 1956. A lack of clarity over the border markers has made it easy for Ethiopian militants to occupy fertile farmlands in eastern El Gedaref.