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Nile dam: Egypt, Ethiopia, Sudan resume African Union-led talks

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The three nations agree to present proposals on management of Ethiopia’s controversial $4bn dam within two days.

Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia have agreed to present draft proposals over the management of Addis Ababa’s giant and controversial Nile hydroelectric dam within two days, Sudan’s water ministry has said.

“After lengthy discussions, the attendees decided to resume negotiations on Tuesday … to work on unifying the texts of the agreements submitted by the three countries,” the ministry said in a statement on Sunday.

The decision came during the talks led by the African Union between water and foreign ministers from the three countries about the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).

Talks organised by South Africa, the current chair of the African Union, resumed on Sunday after a short suspension, a day after Egypt and Sudan voiced optimism that a deal could be reached.

The GERD, situated in western Ethiopia on the Blue Nile River, has been contentious since Ethiopia broke ground on the $4bn project in 2011.

Years of talks between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan with a variety of mediators, including United States President Trump’s administration, have failed to produce a solution.

The two downstream nations, Egypt and Sudan, have repeatedly insisted Ethiopia must not start filling the reservoir without reaching a deal first.

The dispute reached a tipping point in July, when Ethiopia announced it had completed the first stage of the filling of the dam’s 74 billion cubic-metre reservoir, sparking fear and confusion in Sudan and Egypt.

Egypt and Sudan suspended their talks with Ethiopia earlier this month after Addis Ababa proposed linking a deal on the filling and operations of the GERD to a broader agreement about the Blue Nile’s waters.

That tributary begins in Ethiopia and is the source of as much as 85 percent of the Nile River. It was not clear whether that issue had been addressed in Sunday’s talks.

During a meeting on Saturday in Khartoum, the prime ministers of Sudan and Egypt said they were optimistic the talks would be fruitful.

“It is important to reach an agreement that guarantees the rights and interests of all three nations,” the leaders said in a joint statement, adding that a “mechanism to resolve (future) disputes” should be part of any deal.

To Ethiopia, the GERD project offers a critical opportunity to pull millions of citizens out of poverty and become a significant power exporter.

For Egypt, which depends on the Nile River to supply its farmers and booming population of 100 million with fresh water, the dam poses an existential threat.

Sudan, geographically located between the two regional powerhouses, says the project could endanger its own dams.

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