Three key Nile basin countries have resumed their negotiations to resolve a years-long dispute over the operation and filling of a giant hydroelectric dam that Ethiopia is building on the Blue Nile.
Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt have resumed the second round of talks on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Nile River mediated by the African Union.
Ethiopia said Monday, August 3, 2020 that the negotiations, seeking to secure an agreement on the filling of the mega dam and its operations, will continue in the direction set by leaders of the three countries based on the outcomes of the first round of talks.
The resumption of talks on Monday came a day after millions of Ethiopians at home and across the globe celebrated the completion of the first phase of filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam’s 74 billion-cubic-metre reservoir, thanks to heavy rains.
In the capital Addis Abba, tens of thousands of people went to the streets on Sunday to express their support and joy, while those in the diaspora were urged to show their support in whichever way for three minutes, starting at 4pm local time.
But before the dust could settle, the Sudanese government strongly rejected an Ethiopian proposal to negotiate a treaty on the waters of the Blue Nile instead of a comprehensive agreement on the filling and operation of the Renaissance Dam known as GERD.
On Tuesday, the Ethiopian Minister of Irrigation sent a letter to his Sudanese counterpart, Yasir Abbas, suggesting that “the agreement (under negotiations) be only on the first filling of the Renaissance Dam, while it links the operation of the dam in the long run to the conclusion of a comprehensive treaty on the waters of the Blue Nile.”
The Sudanese Ministry of Irrigation said in a statement issued on Tuesday that Abbas, from his side, sent a letter to the South African foreign minister regarding the reversal of the Ethiopian position during the past few hours.
The talks on the GERD filling and operation are at deadlock due to their failure to reach an agreement on several sticky issues including future upstream developments, binding nature of the agreement and dispute settlement mechanism.
The Ethiopian government does not want to sign a legally binding agreement under the international law saying it would subject its future projects on the Blue Nile to the consent of Sudan, Egypt or an international court or arbitration body.
Sudan proposed that the agreement under negotiations protect Ethiopia’s right to future development as it plans to build two other dams on the Blue Nile. Also, the Sudanese proposal new negotiations on these projects to protect the interests on the downstream countries.
However, Ethiopia rejects the Sudanese proposal, which is backed by the African Union experts saying its future projects even if affect the would-be agreement on the GERD should not be considered as a breach because it exercises its right to use the Blue Nile waters.
The Ethiopian message “raises serious concerns regarding the current negotiation process, the progress achieved and the understandings reached, including those covered in the last report of the Bureau of Heads of State and Government of the African Union on 21 July,” said the Sudanese minister.
The Ethiopian proposal to link the filling and operation process with a treaty on the waters of the Nile represents “a major development and a change in the Ethiopian position that threatens the continuity of the negotiations,” he added.
Further, the Sudanese minister called to remove the Ethiopian proposal saying that Sudan might withdraw from the current process, stressing that the proposal for a separate water treaty is a clear breach of the Declaration of Principles signed between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan on March 23, 2015. “Sudan will not accept to pet the lives of 20 million of its people who live on the banks of the Blue Nile on reaching a treaty on the waters of the Blue Nile,” he stressed.
The tripartite talks were suspended after 11 days on July 13 having failed to yield an agreement.
In a statement issued in Cairo, the Egyptian Ministry of Irrigation said that Tuesday’s meeting was dedicated to discussing technical and legal issues by the specialised committees.
“However, just prior to the meeting, the Ethiopian Minister of Water addressed a letter to his Egyptian and Sudanese counterparts, with draft Guidelines and Rules for Filling the GERD which does not include any operating rules or any elements that reflect the legally binding nature of the agreement, as well as the absence of a legal mechanism to settle disputes. ”
Ethiopian letter violated what was agreed on Monday, on the need to resolve the contentious points before a meeting of water ministers on Thursday, stressed the statement.
Negotiators and observers will submit their reports to the AU Secretariat and heads of State of the three countries for further guidance.
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