Already gripped in a vicious civil war, Sudan might soon find itself in a conflict with Eritrea, which appears to have designs on its oil and gas deposits, reports Million Rahman, of the Walta Information Center in Ethiopia.
Despite its precarious security situation, Sudan has over the past several years been making steady economic progress, with the development of both its oil and gas deposits.
The country reportedly has 780 million barrels of proven oil reserves and 3 billion cubic feet of natural gas. Foreign companies involved in these sectors include China's National Oil Corporation, Malaysia's Petronas and Canada's Arakis
Sudanese oil production has been rising, from 138,000 barrels per day in 1999 to 200,000 barrels per day in 2000. Revenues from oil sales were close to $800 million in 1999, and $1 billion dollars in revenues is expected for 2000.
Sudan’s 18-year civil war is far from over, but efforts are being made to bring it to an end. An Inter-governmental Authority on Development (IGAD)—which includes Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Sudan itself, met in Khartoum in November and recommended a series of measures toward resolving between Sudanese government forces, led by the country’s president, General Omar al-Bashir, and the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and a coalition of other northern Sudanese forces.
But Eritrea, even though it is a participant in the IGAD process, seems intent on pushing a plan that meets its own agenda. Commentators believe that this has much to with Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki’s desire to get control over at least a portion of Sudan’s oil and gas assets.
Afwerki’s record in the region as an honest broker is questionable. In 1994, he had vowed to overthrow the Khartoum regime in a matter of days, and so severed diplomatic ties with Sudan, and officially handed over the Sudanese Embassy offices to Sudan's opposition groups.
Eritrea also has a dispute with Yemen over the Hannish islands on the Red Sea, over which the two countries fought a brief campaign in 1995, after which they went to the International Court in The Hague. Eritrea lost the case.
In 1997, Eritrea invaded Ethiopia, beginning of a war which lasted for two years. It ended after Ethiopia launched a counter-offensive last June.
Rebuffing IGAD, Isaias recently sent a senior delegation to Sudan, bluntly calling for a new transitional government in Sudan in which General Al Bashir would be the president and John Garang, leader of the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), serves as prime minister.
But in December, Sudanese National Congress Secretary General Ibrahim Ahmed said Sudan would abide by IGAD and joint Libyan-Egyptian peace initiatives to resolve Khartoum’s dispute with the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), which is based in the Eritrean capital of Asmara.
Some believe that Afwerki’s attempt to play a role in Sudan may also be inspired by a desire to nip in the bud a developing relationship between Ethiopia and Sudan.
Ethiopia’s peace pact with Eritrea states that the latter will resume using the Port of Assab on the Red Sea, but it appears that Ethiopia may prefer using the Port Sudan in addition to the Port of Djibouti.
To make possible the use of Port Sudan, Ethiopia has been repairing the Adarif-Gallabat-Mattamah-Gondar Road. Ethiopia also aims to import oil from Sudan.
In Afwerki’s opinion, the consequences of an Ethiopian-Sudanese alliance are ominous, and may be cause enough for the Eritrean president to initiate a war in an attempt to overthrow Al Bashir and put SPLA leader John Garang in his place. And with Sudan’s newfound oil and gas wealth, such a move could also make economic sense. – (Abawaba-MEBG)
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com )