Sudan: Security is the most important issue on the bilateral talks with Eritrea

Compiled by Abdulhafiz Yassin


Feb 11, 2006 (KHARTOUM) — Sudanese minister of state for foreign affairs, Al-Samani al-Wasilah, has said Sudan is keen to normalize relations with Eritrea

Speaking in an interview with the London based Asharq al-Awsat, Al-Wasilah downplayed the boycott by Eritrea of the recent African Union summit, which was held in Khartoum.

The following is the text of excerpts related to the question of Eritrea-Sudan ties from Al-Wasilah’s interview published on 7 February:

Progress in bilateral ties

-  What is the progress in the Sudanese-Eritrean relations following the recent joint initiatives?

Al-Wasilah: First of all, we should note the special relationship between the two countries where tribes live on both sides of the border. That is why this relationship is described as special and eternal. It is the object of interest at all levels. Accordingly, the National Unity Government is eager to perpetuate this concept with the neighboring states.

Sudan has joint borders with nine countries, and there was tension in the Sudanese-Eritrean relations as a result of past political developments. When the neighbor, Eritrea, took the initiative and sent a high-level delegation to Khartoum, Sudan immediately responded to this initiative. Sudanese First Vice-President Salva Kiir led a large delegation on a visit to Asmara where he met Eritrean President Isayas Afewerki.

Afterward, another delegation, led by Foreign Minister Dr Lam Akol, visited Asmara to show good intentions and a genuine desire to expand bilateral relations, taking into consideration the two countries’ higher interests. The aim was to build relations based on respect, trust, and mutual benefits.

-  But what was actually achieved in this respect?

Al-Wasilah: We are now in the stage of exchanging ambassadors and setting up technical committees to reach a strategic understanding that will remove the negative effects of the past era and to work out a strategy on cooperation and good neighborly ties, benefiting from the past experience.

Security is the most important issue on the bilateral talks

-  What is the most important issue on the table of consultations and discussions?

Al-Wasilah: Security is the most important issue. In the past, armed opposition groups operated in Eritrea, such as the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement, National Democratic Alliance, armed movements of Darfur, and the Eastern Front.

We hope that Eritrea will play a role in advancing the peace plan in Sudan forward in order to reach agreement on outstanding issues in the east and west [Darfur]. The two movements [not further identified] continue to keep camps inside Eritrea and have connections there.

-  There is talk that Asmara follows a policy of alertness and preparedness in dealing with neighbouring countries. Has this policy disappeared?

Al-Wasilah: Stable international relations are based on good neighborly ties, non-interference in states’ internal affairs, and efforts to establish security and peace at regional and world levels.

The Sudanese national unity government observes these firm principles, and we do not expect any neighboring state to act differently. Every state has the right to protect its territories, sovereignty, citizens, resources, and recognized borders.

-  Did the recent initiatives and exchanged visits show that Asmara complies with these principles?

Al-Wasilah: Eritrea is a sovereign state and member of the UN. It complies with all charters that govern ties between neighbors and international relations. Wars and estrangement happen between states only when other concepts prevail. Proceeding from its national sovereignty, each state has the right to protect its territories, citizens, and resources.

-  How can Eritrea reassure Sudan with regard to the threat to its security?

Al-Wasilah: As far as we are concerned, we have a declared foreign policy. We cannot ask others not to interfere in our domestic policies and not threaten our national security, while at the same time we work to undermine the situation in a neighboring country. Therefore, it is important for our two countries to devise a strategic vision on good and stable neighborly relations that will serve all our interests.

-  Did Asmara undertake to stop any security threat to Sudan?

Al-Wasilah: Such an undertaking will be made when the joint technical committees complete their work. Upon the completion of these committees’ work, a strategic agreement will be signed.

This agreement will secure the progress of bilateral relations and ensure that there will be no return to the state of tension and hostility that existed in the past.

Eritrea AU summit boycott

-  Did President Isayas Afewerki not attend the recent AU summit in Khartoum because he had reservations?

Al-Wasilah: President Isayas Afewerki’s failure to attend the African summit had nothing to do with the summit’s venue. Nevertheless, it has to do with Aferwerki’s reservation about the AU’s way of addressing the current problem between Ethiopia and Eritrea over the demarcation of their joint borders.

-  But why was the planned summit between Sudanese President Umar al-Bashir and President Isayas Afewerki not held?

Al-Wasilah: Indeed, the two presidents were expected to meet at a mini African summit in Tripoli on the 14th of January to address the Darfur issue. But the summit was postponed after Chadian President Idriss Deby announced that he would not attend.

Nevertheless, we expect the summit to be held soon.

Normalization of relations

-  Is there a serious and genuine joint desire to normalize the bilateral relations?

Al-Wasilah: International, regional and local developments in the two countries, Sudan and Eritrea, show a pressing need for these relations to return to normal fast.

-  Does this normalization and bilateral cooperation take place at the expense of Sudanese-Ethiopian relations?

Al-Wasilah: Relations between states are not handled this way. Normalization and improvement of the relations with Eritrea do not necessarily mean that Ethiopia will be affected. Ethiopia shares our concerns and is interested in the stability of the region. The normalization of relations between Khartoum and Asmara will have a positive and vital effect on the three countries and the region.

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