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Sudan defense Minister meets Ethiopia’s Zenawi in Addis Ababa

By Tesfa-Alem Tekle

June 3, 2011 (ADDIS ABABA) – Sudanese defense minister Gen. Abdel-Rahim Mohamed Hussein met on Thursday with the Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to discuss the situation in the disputed region of Abyei and a number of other bilateral and regional concerns.

Abyei’s seizure by the northern Sudanese army (SAF) on May 21 has raised fears of a possible return to civil war between North and South Sudan. The SAF says its action came in response to attacks on one of their convoys in the area.

Earlier in May Abyei was included in the constitution of South Sudan as it prepares to secede from the north in July. Last week officials from North and South Sudan reached an agreement to set up a demilitarized zone along the border to be jointly patrolled.

Ethiopia, seen as a neutral player by both sides, has expressed willingness to deploy peace-keeping forces to Abyei to act as buffer between the North and South Sudan.

"If the request comes from North and South Sudan, Ethiopia will consider of offering peace keepers to Abyei region," Ethiopia Foreign Ministry spokesman, Ambassador Dina Mufti, told Sudan Tribune on Wednesday.

During this latest meeting, the Ethiopian premier reiterated that his country will continue to work to ensure peace and stability in Sudan. He said peace in Sudan means not only to Sudanese but also has considerable impact on East Africa as a whole.

The last Sudanese civil war between north and South Sudan killed around two million and forced four million to leave their homes, many fled to countries that border the south such as Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda.

Zenawi called on the governments of north and South Sudan to relentlessly exert their efforts to peacefully resolve the remaining and pending issues of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement and build excellent future relations.

According to the senior government source, the two sides also discussed the restive region of Darfur, where rebels have been fighting the Sudanese government since 2003. Peace talks in Doha seem to be making some progress despite one of the largest groups not attending.

The two officials also conferred on the issue on Nile water - the Blue Nile begins in Ethiopia and meets the White Nile in Sudan’s capital Khartoum. Ethiopia intends to build a massive hydro electric power dam on the Blue Nile and export power to neighboring countries.

The Sudanese defense minister congratulated Meles Zenawi on the 20th anniversary of the May 20 victory, which saw the downfall of the 17 year rule of the former Marxist Derg regime.

He appreciated what the victory has brought to the country and to the future generation. Both underscored a need to jointly step up efforts to ensure regional security.