x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Ethiopia and Egypt remain on edge over Nile dam

The foreign ministers of Egypt and Ethiopia cancelled a press conference yesterday after meeting in Ethiopia's capital, raising doubts that tensions over a dam Ethiopia is building on the Blue Nile River will subside soon.

ADDIS ABABA // The foreign ministers of Egypt and Ethiopia cancelled a press conference yesterday after meeting in Ethiopia's capital, raising doubts that tensions over a dam Ethiopia is building on the Blue Nile River will subside soon.

Egypt and Ethiopia began a sharp exchange of words after Ethiopia last month started to divert Nile waters as part of the construction of its massive Dh15.4 billion hydroelectric project dubbed the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.

Egypt fears the dam will mean a lesser share of the Nile, which provides almost all of its water needs.

The foreign minister of Egypt, Mohamed Amr, arrived in Addis Ababa on Sunday, and yesterday met his Ethiopian counterpart Tedros Adhanom. In a possible sign that the talks are not going smoothly, the two ministers then cancelled a scheduled news conference.

"I cannot anticipate the outcome of the meeting, but our wish is that they would understand that the construction of the dam is not going to harm them in any way. We have always sought a win-win cooperation and relationship with Egypt," said Dina Mufti, a spokesman for the Ethiopian foreign ministry.

Relations between the nations have quickly grown tense. In a televised meeting on June 3, Egyptian politicians suggested attacks on Ethiopia to sabotage the dam.

A week later, Mohammed Morsi, the Egyptian president, warned that "all options are open" to challenge Ethiopia's Nile project.

In response, the Ethiopian prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, vowed "nothing" and "no one" will stop the dam's construction.

Then, last Thursday, Ethiopia's parliament unanimously ratified a new accord that replaces colonial-era deals that awarded Egypt veto powers over Nile projects.

The tensions are causing international concern. The head of the African Union urged dialogue and cooperation and the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, telephoned both Mr Morsi and Mr Hailemariam.

Ethiopia downplays the prospect of military confrontation with Egypt. The president said Egypt would not attack unless its leaders "go mad". Ethiopia insists it "will not bow to pressure" by delaying the construction of the dam.

The dam, which would be Africa's largest hydroelectric producer, has been under construction for two years on the Blue Nile River in Ethiopia's Benishangul-Gumuz region near Sudan.

* Associated Press