Ethiopia says dam talks should remain on ‘technical tracks’

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Addis Ababa, February 14 (WIC) - The Ministry of Water, Irrigation and Energy said talks between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) should stick to technical issues rather than politicking.

Fekahmed Negash, Boundary and Trans-boundary Rivers Affairs Directorate Director within the Ministry, said Ethiopia had expressed its desire for talks to center on technical issues regarding the dam’s benefits for and impact on downstream countries during a meeting with Egypt’s Irrigation Minister Mohamed Abdel-Muttalib.

The remark comes amid stalled talks between the three countries over what would be Africa’s biggest hydroelectric dam currently being built on Nile River. The meeting between Ethiopia and Egypt on Monday also ended without agreements.

Fekahmed said Ethiopia turned down Egypt’s two proposals during the meeting insisting on trilateral discussion which included Sudan.

Egypt sought to discuss the "principles of confidence-building" document requesting Ethiopia to "respect" Sudan and Egypt's water security and the establishment of international experts parallel to another planned to be jointly hired.

At bilateral level, Ethiopia presented its proposal to Egypt as to how to deal with issues concerning dialogues on the dam, Fekahmed said.

“We have told Egyptian Delegates that discussions should be restricted to technical issues between experts rather than diplomats,” Fekahmed told WIC. “We are open to forming other platforms as well but the process should be restricted to technical tracks,” he said.

Upon his return to Cairo, Mohamed Abdel-Muttalib said that "all options are open" while also slamming Turkey accusing it of promising to help Ethiopia in the dam construction.  Ethiopia has expressed its concern regarding Egypt’s activities to hinder the dam construction.

“We have insisted that Egypt should refrain from activities of sabotage against the construction of the dam,” Fekahmed said.

“We are keen for consultations to continue whether agreement has been reached or not. We can undertake practical works on areas we have agreed upon,” Fekahmed told WIC.

According to the official, Ethiopia also requested Egypt to refrain from misinforming both Egyptians and Ethiopians. Fekahmed cited what he described as ‘erroneous’ reports claiming  that Egypt’s Irrigation Minister trip to Ethiopia came after an invitation from Ethiopia.

“It was the Egyptian Minister who repeatedly requested for a bilateral meeting and we accepted it,” Fekahmed told WIC.

Egypt fears the construction of the dam will impact its water quota emanating from a colonial era treaty despite Ethiopia’s repeated explanation that the dam will not significantly harm downstream countries.

Ethiopia and other upper riparian countries insist that the colonial era treaties of 1929 and 1959, which they are not a party to, do not bind them. Six of the riparian countries including Ethiopia have signed a Cooperative Framework Agreement aimed at ‘fair and equitable’ utilization of the Nile waters.

Ethiopia’s stance on the GERD is affirmed by an international panel of experts (IPoE) which studied the dam’s impact for a year. The expert’s report found that the dam will not significantly harm downstream countries although it recommended for further studies to be carried out jointly. Following the expert’s finding, Sudan has publicly backed the construction of dam.