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Eritrea - Sudan Relations

Sudan hosted both the ELF and the EPLF during the armed struggle.107 It was one of the first countries of the region to send an official representative to liberated Eritrea, as of December 1991, and at around the same time it withdrew its support to the ELF, closing their offices in Sudan. In 1989, though, Mr. Omer al-Bashir had seized power in Sudan with the help of the National Islamic Front (NIF) led by Mr. Hassan Al-Turabi. The latter supported the Eritrean Islamic Jihad Movement (EIJM) that led campaigns against the EPLF and Eritrean military forces, and called for the establishment of Islamic governments throughout the Horn of Africa.

In spite of his influence, in August 1994 Eritrea and Sudan signed a joint statement aimed at ensuring non-interference in each otherís affairs. Soon afterwards, though, the Eritrean government accused Sudanese authorities of allowing EIJM fighters to infiltrate among Eritrean refugees returning from Sudan.

In December 1994, Eritrea broke its diplomatic relations with Sudan. In June 1995, the PFDJ hosted a conference of Sudanese opposition forces in Asmara, during which the dormant Sudanese National Democratic Alliance (NDA), a coalition of parties opposing the regime of President Al-Bashir, was revived to launch an armed struggle against the NIF-controlled Sudanese Government.109 In a symbolic gesture, the NDA was hosted in the former Sudanese embassy in Asmara and NDA military training camps were set up in western Eritrea. In January 1997, the NDA opened a front on the Eritrea-Sudan border. In June of the same year, the Eritrean government accused Sudan of an assassination plot against President Afwerki.

The two countries resumed peaceful relations in late 1999, thanks to a mediation process led by Qatar. The entente, nevertheless, did not last as during the Eritrea-Ethiopia border conflict, Ethiopian troops were allowed to use Sudanese territory and airspace to fight Eritreans. In response, Eritrea revived its support to the NDA, and provided assistance to rebel forces in Darfur and to the Sudan Peopleís Liberation Movement (SPLM) in southern Sudan. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the Sudanese Government and the SPLM in January 2005, which Eritrea helped to mediate, favored the resumption of diplomatic relations between the two countries by years-end.

Relations with Sudan remain tense, as for the past decade Khartoum has accused Asmara of supporting rebel groups in southern, eastern, and western Sudan. In turn, Asmara accuses Khartoum of backing the Eritrean Islamic Salvation Movement (Eritrean Islamic Jihad) in attacks on local and Western targets in Eritrea. Relations with Sudan were colored by occasional incidents involving the extremist group Eritrean Islamic Jihad (EIJ)--believed by the Eritrean Government to be supported by the National Islamic Front government in Khartoum--and by Eritrean support for the Sudanese opposition coalition, the National Democratic Alliance. Eritrea normalized relations with Sudan in 2006.

The relationship between the two countries has shown signs of improving steadily during the past few years. Sudanese and Eritrean officials have visited each otherís countries on numerous occasions and vowed to work towards closer cooperation.

These relations grew even closer when President Afwerki became one of the first Heads of State to invite President Al-Bashir for a visit after the International Criminal Court (ICC) indicted him for war crimes in Darfur. President Al-Bashir visited Eritrea in March 2009, a visit reciprocated in 2011 by President Afwerki in October 2011. Later that month, President Al-Bashir officially announced the end of border tensions between Sudan and Eritrea at a road inauguration meeting. In June 2013, talks between Presidents Afwerki and Al-Bashir resulted in an agreement to establish a free-trade zone along their common border, to extend a highway from Eritrea to Port Sudan and to bring electricity provision from power stations in Sudan to towns in western Eritrea.

President Afwerki himself visited the Sudan in May 2014, where he met his Sudanese counterpart, Omar al Bashir, and they signed a broad commercial and trade agreement. In May 2014, during President Afwerkiís visit to the Al Jeili oil refinery in Sudan, the Sudanese news agency announced that Sudan had agreed to supply Eritrea with fuel as part of its plans to boost economic cooperation between the two countries.

The reality for Eritrea, given its adversarial and strained relationship with neighbours Ethiopia and Djibouti, is that the Sudan offers it the only relatively secure route to bring in goods by land, from fuel and household items to weaponry.

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Page last modified: 30-06-2015 20:20:13 ZULU