The lack of a clear demarcation in al-Fashaga has led in recent months to fighting between the two sides, as well as the kidnapping and killing of civilians in border villages.
Gallabat, Sudan – For more than 15 years, Ahmed Dafie has been making a living selling wood he receives from the forests of Gallabat in the state of Gadarif, near Sudan’s eastern border with Ethiopia.
But he says the increase in near-border fighting in recent months has affected their livelihoods. Worse, he adds, he and two farmers were abducted “by Ethiopian militiamen who had crossed the border.”
“They were asking for rescue from the village residents,” Dafie told Al Jazeera. “While they were holding us, they kept saying that it was because of him border dispute between Sudan and Ethiopia launching attacks to push us away from the border. The rescue was paid for and now I don’t dare go far for fear of my safety. “
The lumberjack village is one of several in Gadarif located along the border, in an area where Ethiopians do not need documentation to cross and come to trade and make money.
But ease of movement has sparked fear, with dozens of people in the state reporting that they had been abducted by Ethiopian militias to rescue them since the beginning of the year.
“Part of the reason for the instability along the Sudan-Ethiopia border is the lack of clearly defined borders in most areas,” said Hiba Morgan, of Al Jazeera, a Gallabat informant. “This problem has led not only to the abduction and killing of civilians in border villages, but also to the struggle between the two sides in recent months.”
Late last year, the Sudanese army moved to take over a fertile 259-square-kilometer border area known as al-Fashaga that Khartoum claims under a colonial agreement dating back to 1902.
But its boundaries were never clearly demarcated, and Ethiopian Amhara ethnic farmers say they have been cultivating it for nearly 50 years and it belongs to them.
Enraged by the Sudanese measure, Ethiopia deployed federal forces and militias that sparked clashes between the two sides. The fighting has killed dozens of fighters and civilians, raising fears that the dangerous confrontation could lead to a wider conflict and destabilize the Horn of Africa.
“Neither side appears willing to back down, in part because both are bound to form the main national constituents that oppose the commitment,” Crisis Group said in a new statement. report on Thursday, urging Sudan and Ethiopia to “calm tensions and reach an agreement.”
“Addis Ababa and Khartoum should calm their border line before it further complicates the resolution of their other disputes,” including the great Ethiopian Renaissance dam, he added.
The Sudanese army said it was working to protect civilians.
“Our forces are spread throughout the eastern region and are able to protect civilians,” said Abbas al-Darouti, inspector general of the armed forces. “There are safe areas that we have marked so that civilians can be there and cultivate and continue with their livelihoods. But areas that are dangerous areas should be avoided to prevent kidnappings by assailants on the other side.
Meanwhile, Ethiopia says border talks will not resume unless the Sudanese army withdraws from al-Fashaga. He has accused Sudan of invading the region, of attacking and displacing Ethiopians and of seizing empty military sides.
The violence has led to the repeated closure of the official border crossing in Gallabat, which has affected traders on both sides.
“I bring goods to Gallabat and I bring other goods to sell at home,” said Mesele Sesay, an Ethiopian citizen.
“Insecurity affects us citizens because we are just simple people. What happens at the political or military level also affects both sides, but those above do not experience what we do.