By Khalid Abdelaziz
ADDIS ABABA/KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok visited Ethiopia briefly on Sunday with what three senior Sudanese government officials said was an offer to broker a ceasefire in its northern Tigray region, a proposal Ethiopia said was unnecessary because fighting had stopped.
Hamdok, who was accompanied by Sudanese security officials, planned to present his concerns about threats to Sudan’s security along its border with Tigray during the visit, the officials said. However, Hamdok returned within a few hours from what Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed had earlier described as a two-day trip.
Fighting erupted on Nov. 4 between Ethiopia’s government and the then-governing party in Tigray, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Thousands of people are believed to have been killed and more than 950,000 displaced, some 50,000 of them into Sudan, according to U.N. estimates.
Abiy government declared victory over the TPLF after its forces took control of the regional capital, Mekelle, on Nov. 29. The TPLF has said it is continuing to fight from mountains surrounding Mekelle.
Accounts from all sides are near-impossible to verify because most communications to Tigray have been down since the conflict began. The government has restricted access for journalists and foreign aid agencies.
Abiy welcomed Hamdok, and later tweeted that he and the Sudanese delegation had good discussions, “during which we reached an understanding on various issues that will further augment cooperation between our two countries”.
He made no mention of an offer from Sudan to broker a ceasefire or mediate the Tigray conflict.
“Mediate what?” Billene Seyoum, Abiy’s spokeswoman, said when asked by Reuters for information about this offer.
“The military altercation has ceased with the command of Mekelle … The provisional administration has [been] set up and a regional council formed in Tigray.”
“Remnants of the criminal clique have fled,” she added, referring to the TPLF.
Reuters has been unable to contact TPLF officials for nearly a week.
The first non-governmental aid convoy since fighting started arrived in Mekelle on Saturday, and a government-appointed transitional administration said it would take office on Sunday.
Sudan’s cabinet said that Hamdok and Abiy had agreed to resume negotiations within the next week about the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, an issue that has caused tensions between the two countries.
Ethiopia says electricity from the $4 billion dam will help create jobs but Sudan and Egypt worry it will restrict their access to Nile waters.
Hamdok and Abiy also agreed to call a meeting of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, an East African regional bloc that Hamdok currently chairs, the Sudanese cabinet said in a statement.
Ethiopia has rebuffed previous offers to mediate in the Tigray conflict, including from the African Union. It accuses the TPLF of leading a renegade administration that launched a surprise attack on federal troops stationed in Tigray on Nov. 4. TPLF leaders deny they started the conflict.
Regional experts have suggested that Sudan could use its control over key border crossings as leverage to press both sides in Ethiopia to talk. But there are no public signs it is doing so.