FILE - People who fled ongoing fighting in Ethiopia's Tigray region queue to receive food aid in Hamdayet village in Sudan's eastern Kassala state, Dec. 15, 2020.
FILE - People who fled ongoing fighting in Ethiopia's Tigray region queue to receive food aid in Hamdayet village in Sudan's eastern Kassala state, Dec. 15, 2020.

KHARTOUM - Tensions between Sudan and Ethiopia over a contested border area rose this week, as Sudan accused its neighbor of sending military planes over its airspace.

Sudan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs says Ethiopian military warplanes crossed into Sudanese airspace this week in a "dangerous and unjustified escalation" of tensions over the disputed al-Fashaga area.

Sudan also says armed Ethiopian gangs, backed by the government, killed at least eight civilians in Wad A’arood and al-Liya villages along the border. 

The head of the Sudanese military, Lieutenant General Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan, visited the area and talked to the Sudanese troops guarding the borders.

Al-Burhan says Sudan has been patient about this land for so long, for 25 years of offenses and threats and accusations, but everything has a limit.  He says Sudan didn’t start the conflict, Ethiopia did, and now its eye for an eye.  He says they killed Sudanese women and killed our farmers and burnt the lands before, and they claimed that it’s not Sudanese land and accused Sudan of entering their lands.

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Authorities in Sudan’s al-Qadarif state say residents of at least 34 villages near the border have been displaced. 

Sudan and Ethiopia formed a joint committee in December to resolve the long-standing dispute over al-Fashaga, located where northwestern Ethiopia meets southeastern Sudan. 

However, the Ethiopian ambassador in Khartoum has accused the Sudanese military of taking advantage of the war in the Tigray region to seize disputed land. Yibeltal Aemero called on Sudan’s military to withdraw from the border region and stop its military operations.  

“Very recently, in the first week of November 2020, we witnessed unprecedented military incursion by the Sudan while the joint special committee was still in progress and when the Ethiopian National Defense forces moved to Tigray region on November, 4, 2020 for the law enforcement majors, the Sudanese army took the advantage and entered deep inside Ethiopian territory, looted properties, burned camps, detained, attacked and killed the Ethiopians while displacing thousands," said Aemero.  

Many Sudanese condemned the ambassador’s accusations and called on the military to take wider actions.  

Security observers think the conflict could have severe ramifications in the region.  

Military expert Sawarmi Kahlid says the recent escalation has very risky security impacts on the residents in the border area and the troops in both sides.  Also the call of war is threatening large groups of people and tribes, especially in Ethiopia, where these tribes are already witnessing a famine.

More than 50,000 Ethiopians recently fled the war in the Tigray region for refugee camps in eastern Sudan.  The Sudanese government has moved many of them away from the border, citing the security situation.