Tunisia 'astonished' by Ethiopia's reaction on UNSC statement on GERD dispute

Mohamed Soliman , Friday 17 Sep 2021

UN Security Council
The UN Security Council

Tunisia has expressed on Friday "astonishment" at Ethiopia's angry reaction to the recent UNSC non-binding statement that was sponsored by Tunis to encourage negotiations as a means to resolve the GERD dispute, faulting Addis Ababa for questioning "Tunisia's sincere and lasting commitment to defending African issues in all international forums."

On Wednesday, the UNSC adopted a Tunisia-drafted presidential statement encouraging Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia "to resume negotiations" to swiftly reach a "mutually acceptable and binding agreement on the filling and operation" of Ethiopia’s controversial mega-dam, a source of tension between the three countries over the past ten years.

As opposed to both downstream countries Egypt and Sudan who welcomed the statement, Ethiopia slammed on Wednesday Tunisia’s draft statement, describing it as “a historic misstep” that “undermines [Tunisia’s] solemn responsibility” as a rotating UNSC member for Africa.

In response to Ethiopia, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Tunisia, the non-permanent Arab member at the 15-member UN body, said on Thursday the UNSC statement was issued after consultation and coordination with all stakeholders and UNSC members at various levels.

"This initiative was not directed against any party, but rather aimed at encouraging the concerned countries to resume negotiations in a constructive manner as well as value the pivotal role of the African Union," the Tunisian statement read.

The statement was tabled by Tunisia as part of its commitment at the African and Arab levels and also a part of its responsibility in the Security Council to serve peace and promote the values of dialogue and negotiation, the ministry added.

The goal was to bridge points of view and reach a balanced agreement that takes into account the stakeholders' concerns and interests, guarantees their right to development and at the same time keeps the region free from tension, the ministry stressed.

Tunisia reiterated the necessity of the negotiating path as the only way out to surmount all differences, voicing its keenness that the Nile River remain a source of cooperation, prosperity, peace and development for all countries in the region.

Ethiopia rejects UNSC’s intervention

Ethiopia has repeatedly rejected the referral of the issue to the UNSC, a step that both Egypt and Ethiopia restored to after the collapse of the African Union-sponsored talks in April.

Ethiopia claims that the issue is outside of the council’s mandate.

It also rejected many proposals tabled by Cairo and Khartoum to widen the mediation of the GERD negotiations to include other parties alongside the African Union.

“It is regrettable that the council [has chosen to impose] itself over an issue of water rights and development that is outside of its mandate,” Ethiopia reiterated in its Wednesday's statement.

The presidential statement came two months after the UNSC held its second session on the long-running issue at the request of Egypt and Sudan, who have been negotiating with Ethiopia for a decade now to reach a legally binding agreement on the filing and operation rules of the dam.

Both downstream countries blame the talks’ failure on upstream Ethiopia’s intransigence.

Ethiopia, which unilaterally completed the first and second filling of its controversial dam despite the absence of agreement, has repeatedly refused to sign such a deal, seeking mere guidelines that can be modified at any time at its discretion.

Ethiopia has pinned hopes of development and power generation on the multibillion-dollar hydropower project

Both downstream countries do not oppose Ethiopia’s development goals, but want a legally binding agreement that regulates the rules of filling and operating the dam as Egypt fears an impact on its water supply and Sudan is concerned about regulating flows to its own dams.

Following the UNSC's push, the DR Congo, the current chair of the African Union, is planning to resume the talks between the three African countries in a new bid to end the GERD row.

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