Egypt's leader seeks to defuse tension with Sudan, Ethiopia

CAIRO — Egypt's president on Monday sought to defuse tensions with Ethiopia and Sudan, reassuring them that his country was not meddling in their internal affairs or planning to go to war against them.

Egypt has expressed mounting alarm over a soon-to-be-completed upstream dam in Ethiopia that Cairo fears could cut into its share of the Nile River, which provides nearly all its freshwater. It has accused Sudan of siding with Ethiopia, and of reviving a longstanding border dispute.

But in televised comments, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said Egypt's strategic choice was peace, not war.

"Egypt neither conspires nor meddles in in anyone's internal affairs. We are determined to have good relations (with Sudan and Ethiopia). Our region has seen enough the past few years," he said.

"We are not prepared to go to war against our brethren or anyone else for that matter. I am saying this as a clear message to our brothers in Sudan and Ethiopia," he added.

The Egyptian leader also called on his country's media to cease attacks on Sudan, saying it should follow the example of his administration which, he said, refrained from insulting its neighbors even in the face of accusations and intentional slights.

Egypt says Ethiopia is not doing enough to ease its concerns about the effects of filling the reservoir behind the dam, which is expected to begin soon and could cut into Egypt's share of the Nile.

Ethiopia says the $5 billion dam is essential for its economic development and argues that the vast majority of its 95 million people lack electricity, which the dam's hydroelectric plant will generate.

Egypt, with a population roughly equal to Ethiopia's, has traditionally received the lion's share of the Nile's waters under agreements reached in 1929 and 1959. Other Nile basin nations view those agreements as unfair, saying they ignore the needs of their own large and growing populations.

Sudan has meanwhile revived a longtime border dispute with Egypt, which has refused to negotiate over the issue or submit the conflict to international arbitration. Egypt in turn accuses Sudan of conspiring with Qatar and Turkey against it. Sudan last week recalled its ambassador in Cairo for consultations.

Earlier this week, Sudanese media reports quoted a senior government official as saying Egypt and its regional ally Eritrea are massing troops on its eastern border. However, the Sudanese Foreign Minister later played down the reports during a visit to Khartoum by his Ethiopian counterpart. He said his own country's buildup of forces near the border with Eritrea was designed to counter a rebel threat. He did not elaborate.

Egypt does not officially have troops deployed in Eritrea, although persistent but unconfirmed media reports speak of Cairo enjoying access to a military base in the Horn of Africa nation. Sudan is at sharp odds with Eritrea, which has in turn been a bitter rival of Ethiopia's since the two nations fought a war in the 1990s.

Ethiopia also accuses Eritrea of training rebels to carry out sabotage attacks on the dam.

El-Sissi hosted Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki in Cairo last week, but little of any substance has emerged from their talks. Pro-government Egyptian media reports have for days been saying that Ethiopia's prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, plans to visit Cairo this month for talks with el-Sissi.

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