Ethiopia says it will begin filling the disputed dam within two weeks

Nile countries agree to restart talks on disputed dam

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) – Ethiopia said on Saturday that it will begin filling a $ 4.6 billion hydropower plant on the Blue Nile in the next two weeks and construction will continue hours after Egypt’s leaders, Sudan and Ethiopia has agreed to return Friday to talks to reach an agreement on its operation.

“It is during this period that the three countries have agreed to reach final agreement on some pending matters,” said a statement by the cabinet of the Ethiopian prime minister.

Egypt and Sudan had said that Ethiopia would not fill the dam next month until the countries reached an agreement.

Ethiopia’s minister of water and energy, Seleshi Bekele, confirmed in early Saturday that the countries had decided at a summit of the African Union to resume the stalled negotiations and conclude an agreement on the controversial mega project within two to three weeks, with support from the AU.

That announcement was a modest postponement of weeks of bellicose rhetoric and escalating tensions over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, Africa’s largest, which Ethiopia had promised to fill at the beginning of the rainy season in July.

Ethiopia depends on its development ambitions on the colossal dam and describes it as a crucial lifeline to get millions out of poverty.

Egypt, which relies on the Nile for more than 90% of its water supply and is already facing high water stress, fears a devastating impact on its thriving population of 100 million. Sudan, which also relies on the Nile for water, has played a key role in bringing the two parties together following the collapse of the US-mediated talks in February.

In an interview with The Associated Press this month, Ethiopian Foreign Minister Gedu Andargachew warned that his country could unilaterally begin filling the reservoir after the final round of talks with Egypt and Sudan failed to reach an agreement how the dam will be filled and operated.

After an AU video conference chaired by South Africa on Friday evening, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi said “all parties” had pledged to “take no one-sided action” by filling the dam without a final agreement, said Bassam Radi , the Egyptian Presidency spokesman.

Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok also indicated that the deadlock between the Nile Basin countries had eased, saying that the countries agreed to restart negotiations through a technical committee with the aim of reaching a deal within two weeks. Ethiopia will not fill the dam until it signs the long-awaited deal, Hamdok’s statement added.

Moussa Faki Mahamat, President of the African Union Commission, said the countries “agreed to an AU-led process to resolve unresolved issues” without elaborating.

Discussion bottlenecks included how much water Ethiopia will deliver downstream of the dam if a multi-year drought occurs and how Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan will resolve future disagreements.

Both Egypt and Sudan have called on the UN Security Council to intervene in the longstanding dispute and to help countries avoid a crisis. The council will hold a public meeting on Monday.

Ethiopia does not support that route, and the new statement by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office said Friday’s meeting “decided to inform the United Nations Security Council that the African Union has been seized.”

The statement also urged all three countries to “stop unnecessary media escalation” during the talks.

Filling the dam without an agreement can bring the confrontation to a critical moment. Both Egypt and Ethiopia have hinted at military steps to protect their interests, and experts fear that an interruption of negotiations could lead to open conflict.

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Associated Press writers in Cairo contributed.

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