FILE - In this June 28, 2013 file photo, construction work takes place, at the site of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam near Assosa, Ethiopia. AFP
The recent round of talks between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan concerning the disputed Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) has gotten off to a rough start after Khartoum skipped Monday's meeting in objection to "not receiving a response to its request to grant experts participating in the negotiations a greater role."
After a one-month impasse, the three nations held a meeting on Sunday, agreeing to resume the talks under the brokerage of the AU for one week as of today, and to hold a follow-up meeting next Sunday, which will be attended by the three countries' irrigation and foreign ministers to review the outcome of the week-long round of talks.
After Sudan's decision, today's meeting was terminated by Egypt, Ethiopia and the AU observers, according to a statement issued by the Egyptian irrigation ministry, which said that "the negotiations require the participation of the three parties to reach a legally-binding agreement on the rules of filling and operating the GERD."
In an official statement, the Sudanese irrigation ministry said Khartoum voiced its reservation about participating in today's trilateral meeting without holding a bilateral meeting with AU's experts and observers on the same day.
"Based on the outcomes of the trilateral ministerial meeting held on Sunday, Sudan asked for holding a bilateral meeting with the African Union's experts as well as observers in the evening of the same day, [but] Sudan did not receive a response to its request," the ministry added.
The AU-mediated talks have been observed by representatives from the EU, the US, the AU, as well as legal and technical experts.
“Sudan received an invitation to continue the direct trilateral negotiations, which prompted it to express its reservation about participating in [today's meeting]," the ministry said.
The Sudanese side reasserted its position about the necessity of giving a bigger role to the AU's experts to facilitate negotiations and reconcile opinions.
Also, the Sudanese irrigation ministry affirmed its adherence to the negotiation process under the aegis of the continental body in accordance with the principle of "African solutions to African problems," the statement added.
According to the Egyptian irrigation ministry, the participating parties in today's meeting agreed to refer the matter to South Africa, the current chair of the AU, to review the coming steps during the anticipated six-member meeting between the three countries' irrigation and foreign ministers next Sunday.
This is the second time Sudan has skipped AU-mediated meetings. In November, Sudan decided to not take part in a tripartite ministerial meeting that was scheduled to discuss guidelines for further negotiations, saying that the way previous talks were held proved to be "unproductive."
Ethiopia and the African Union have yet not commented on Sudan’s step.
Egypt and Sudan have been in talks with Ethiopia for a decade to reach a legally binding agreement on the filling and operating of the near-complete $4.8 billion mega dam.
The GERD, built 15 kilometres from the Ethiopian border with Sudan, has been a source of contention between the three countries since its construction began in 2011.
Cairo fears the project will significantly cut its crucial water supplies from the River Nile, while Sudan has concerns over how the reservoir will be managed.
Ethiopia says the massive project, which it hopes will make it Africa’s largest power exporter, is key to its development efforts.