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Seven Nile Basin States to Sign Water-Sharing Treaty

Source of the Nile River (2006 satellite image)

Source of the Nile River (2006 satellite image)

Ethiopia says seven African nations will sign an agreement next month on redistributing the waters of the Nile, despite objections from Egypt and Sudan, the river's main consumers. The water sharing dispute is threatening to break apart an international initiative to cooperatively develop the Nile's resources.

Ethiopian government spokesman Shimelis Kemal says Egypt is raising technical objections to avoid signing a new framework accord on reallocating shares of Nile River water. He says seven of the nine member states of the Nile Basin Initiative are going to sign the deal next month, with or without Egypt and Sudan.

"Parties to this agreement feel Egypt has employed delaying tactics, which has rather dragged the negotiating process," said Shimelis Kemal.

The Nile Basin Initiative began in 1999 to work toward a legally-binding framework for more equitable sharing of the Nile's waters.

The so-called upstream riparian states have long argued that two colonial-era agreements unfairly gave Egypt and Sudan exclusive rights to nearly all the waters of the world's longest river.

But progress on a new treaty has been slow, and a meeting last week in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh aimed at settling final details is reported to have ended in a deadlock. That prompted the seven upstream states, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia, to announce they would go ahead with a signing ceremony May 14 in Kampala.

Ethiopian spokesman Shimelis says the accord leaves open a controversial provision on water security in hopes Egypt and Sudan could be persuaded to return to the bargaining table.

"All parties have agreed to take Egyptian interests into consideration," he said. "Any agreement that would exclude Egypt would be futile, so they have agreed to try to accommodate Egypt's interests as well."

An Egyptian government spokesman was quoted this week as warning that any framework agreement signed without Egypt and Sudan would mean the death of the Nile Basin initiative. The French news agency quoted Egypt's Minister for Water Resources as saying Egypt's share of the Nile's water is an historic right that has been defended throughout its history.