File Photo: the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile river in the Benishangul-Gumuz region of Ethiopia taken on May 28, 2020. AP
Ethiopia said on Wednesday that inviting other parties as mediators in the 10-year-old Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) negotiations is "demeaning" the efforts of the African Union (AU), the current mediator of the talks.
"The tendency to invite various parties as mediators to the issue while the AU-led negotiation has not been finalised is demeaning the efforts of the AU," an Ethiopian official said in a press conference held in Addis Ababa earlier today.
The statement was in response to the call by Sudan and Egypt for engaging international mediation in the negotiations after the failure of previous talks held under the aegis of the AU.
Dina Mufti, a spokesman for the Ethiopian foreign ministry, told Wednesday’s conference that Addis Ababa believes negotiations overseen by the AU would bring a "win-win solution" to all parties.
Mufti added that "the portrayals of some parties as if Ethiopia has postponed the on-going negotiation is also unfounded," adding that "we have been negotiating in good faith."
Over the past year, the AU, under the presidency of South Africa, tried in vain to help the three countries reach an agreement over the long-running dispute, with the last round being stalled in January due to Khartoum's withdrawal from the meetings in objection to the methodology upon which the talks had been held.
Endeavours to re-launch the talks were renewed with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) chairing the AU in February. The DRC held meetings with the three parties over the past several days to discuss the issue.
Last week, Khartoum proposed to a delegation from the DRC, the current chair of the African Union, to develop the methodology of negotiations by forming a quartet committee to mediate the talks under the supervision of the DRC.
During a meeting with his Sudanese counterpart Mariam Al-Saddiq Al-Mahdi in Cairo on Tuesday, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry announced that Egypt supports the proposal for international mediation.
The proposed mediation involves representatives from the United Nations (UN), the European Union (EU), and the United States (US) alongside the AU.
Both Egypt and Sudan have voiced their serious desire to negotiate, calling upon Ethiopia to show good faith and resume talks before the second filing of the dam.
Mufti also said that Ethiopia believes it has the right to utilise its water resources without significantly harming the downstream countries, in accordance with international law and the principles of fair and equitable utilisation of water resources.
Egypt and Sudan have consistently voiced their support for Ethiopia’s right to use the hydropower project in its development efforts, but they have repeatedly pursued a legally binding agreement on the rules for filling and operating the dam, a step that has been repeatedly dodged or rejected by Ethiopia.
However, Egypt fears the project will significantly cut its crucial water supplies from the Nile River, while Sudan has concerns on how the reservoir will be managed.
The downstream countries said that "unilaterally" commencing with the second filling would pose a direct threat to the riparian security of Egypt and Sudan and would represent a "material breach" of the Declaration of Principles (Dop) signed between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan in 2015.
The DoP states that the three countries must agree on guidelines and rules for the operating processes of the dam before the reservoir is filled.
Last year, Addis Ababa announced it had completed the initial filling with 4.9 billion cubic metres of Blue Nile water in the GERD’s reservoir, while it announced plans to embark on the second phase of filling during the rainy season of August 2021 with 18.4 billion cubic metres of water.