Ethiopia moved heavy weapons to disputed territory on its border with Sudan, according to people familiar with the matter.
The military build-up in an area known as the al-Fashqa triangle signals increasing tensions, after deadly clashes in recent weeks raised international concern. Sudanese officials met Saudi Arabian officials in Riyadh on Wednesday to discuss the crisis, after the U.K. last week called for a de-escalation of tensions.
The Ethiopian army deployed armaments including tanks and anti-aircraft batteries to the border region in the past two weeks, said two foreign diplomats who asked not to be identified because the information isn’t public. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s spokeswoman Billene Seyoum referred a request for comment to the Foreign Ministry, and Redwan Hussein, spokesman for the government’s emergency task force, didn’t respond to a request for comment sent by text message.
Tensions between the two nations have ratcheted up since conflict erupted in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region on Nov. 4. Regional analysts and diplomats have said Abiy is under pressure from powerful Amhara politicians in his government, including Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen, not to back down on the border dispute.
Ethiopia’s government earlier this month accused the Sudanese military of carrying out organized attacks using machine-guns and armored convoys at their border. Those attacks killed “many civilians,” according to Ethiopia’s Foreign Ministry.
The border dispute is straining relations already weakened by an impasse over a giant hydropower dam Ethiopia is building on the main tributary of the Nile River. Sudan and Egypt depend on the flow of the river for fresh water, and both countries want Ethiopia to agree to rules on the filling and operating of the reservoir to safeguard supplies.
Demeke’s spokesman, Dina Mufti, didn’t answer two calls to his mobile phone seeking comment.
The state of Amhara, whose fighters backed the Ethiopian federal army’s incursion into Tigray, claims ownership of parts of al-Fashqa, including areas that are within Sudanese territory. Historically, Khartoum has allowed Amhara farmers to conduct business and live in the fertile area as long as they pay taxes and operate under Sudanese laws. In turn, Ethiopia has recognized the land as Sudanese.
Sudan says the border area around al-Fashqa was demarcated under colonial-era treaties dating back to 1902, putting the land firmly inside its international borders.
Mohamed al-Faki Suleiman, a member of Sudan’s transitional government, said Wednesday he’d sought political support from Saudi Arabia in talks he held in Riyadh, Sudan’s state-run SUNA news agency reported. Any eruption of war could affect security in the wider region, including the Red Sea, he said.