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The land of gold, Halayeb and Shalateen, a thorn in the Egyptian-Sudanese relations

May 13, 2014 at 2:44 pm

The two states, Sudan and Egypt, have lived in a stifled crisis since the military coup that toppled Mohammed Morsi on July 3 last year, amplified by the security tensions witnessed by the Sinai region of Egypt, and Cairo officials’ indirectly accusing Sudan of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood.

Each party, in any crisis, uses the Halayeb and Shalateen Triangle region to put pressure on the other side.

Cairo decided, in recent weeks, that this Triangle should be considered a province of Egypt and has signed contracts with companies for gold exploration in the area.

In response to the Egyptian move, the government in Khartoum deployed a force of marines to take their positions in the region last week. The governor of the Red Sea State Mohamed Tahir Aila claimed Khartoum’s step was a confirmation of Sudan’s sovereignty on the region, but the move raised the fury of the Egyptians who were quick to emphasise that Halayeb is Egyptian.

The political analyst Abdel-Min’im Abu Drees belittled the significance of Khartoum’s deployment of its forces to Halayeb saying it was a routine procedure with the purpose of raising awareness of the issue in the media and politically.

Abu Drees pointed out that the forces that were deployed are in isolated areas in the Triangle, of which Cairo has had total control since 1996. The area is surrounded by wire and gates to control who is entering and leaving it.

Abu Drees ruled out the idea that the move will lead to an escalation in violence between Khartoum and Cairo, arguing that “the circumstances surrounding the Sudanese government do not permit it to open any fronts with Egypt, so as not to be taken advantage of.” He added: “Egypt is well aware of the size of the force deployed and that it does not carry any effect.”

The conflict around the Halayeb and Shalateen Triangle began in the days of British colonialism which failed to identify who the inhabitants of the Triangle followed. It was previously annexed to Egypt, but was quickly returned and attached to Sudan in 1902 since it is closest to Sudanese land.

The first disputes over the region between the two countries erupted when President Gamal Abdel Nasser sent forces to Halayeb and announced the area as being Egyptian. The step was faced with protests in Khartoum, the escalation of which forced the Egyptian president to withdraw those forces. Since then, Halayeb remained an obstacle in the improvement of the relationship between the two countries over successive governments. Egypt gained full control of Halayeb following an attempted assassination of then Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 1995. In that period, Cairo gained its sovereignty over the region and extended Egyptian services to it, providing education and healthcare.

The first dispute in the reign of the current Sudanese regime surfaced in 1992 when Khartoum granted a Canadian company permission to explore for oil in the Triangle which angered Egypt who was quick to protest the move. This led to the Canadian company declining until sovereignty of the region was resolved.

The dispute over sovereignty of the Halayeb area was referred to the United Nations in the seventies and successive Sudanese governments renewed the complaint. In a statement last month Sudanese Defence Minister Abdel-Rahim Ahmed Hussein confirmed that Sudan has annually renewed its complaint about the conflict with Egypt on Halayeb to the United Nations.

The lands of the Triangle are fertile, rich in both oil and a number of types of metals, most notably gold. It is inhabited by the Beja tribe, which is the largest tribe in eastern Sudan, and the origin of the current Assistant of the President of the Republic, Musa Mohamed Ahmed.