April 30, 2014 (ADDIS ABABA) – Ethiopian prime minister Haile Mariam Desalegn has visited the south-western region of Gambella which borders South Sudan on security matters.
- Ethiopian prime minister Haile Mariam Desalegn (Photo: Getty Images)
Tuesday’s visit is the premier’s first since he came to office in 2012 following the death of former prime minister Meles Zenawi.
Sources close to the office of the Gambella regional governor, Gatluak Tut Khot, told Sudan Tribune on Wednesaday that the Ethiopian leader had discussed a wide range of issues, including development and security, with regional leaders.
“The meeting with the prime minister also discussed security issues as the region is strategic,” said a senior official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, without providing further details.
However, observers said his visit, which also coincided with the celebrations of the 100 years anniversary of the founding of Gambella as an administrative unit, could be related to the current crisis in neighbouring South Sudan.
Ethiopia is hosting and mediating the negotiations between the South Sudanese government of president Salva Kiir and trebels led by former vice-president Riek Machar.
Last month, a soldier from the South Sudanese army (SPLA), who was armed with a rifle and grenades, was shot dead in Gambella town after he killed an Ethiopian soldier while resisting searches.
Gambella region borders Upper Nile, Jonglei and Eastern Equatoria states of South Sudan. It has 13 counties, nine of which are inhabited by the Nuer and Anyuak ethnic groups who share cultures and languages with their neighbouring communities in South Sudan.
While the Nuer constitute the largest ethnic group in the region, the Anyuak are the second largest. Other minority ethnic groups include Mejenger, Komo, Oppo and highlanders who come from the other regions of Ethiopia.
The region has had many attachments to the people of South Sudan as former rebels groups and refugee camps were based in the area.
The former military base of Bilpam, as well as Itang, Dimma and Pinyodo, former refugee camps where hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese were sheltered during the 21 years of the civil war with Sudan, all fall within the jurisdiction of the Gambella regional government.
The area is also endowed with various natural resources, including gold and a recently discovered oil reserve.