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Egypt bars Sudanese official from entering disputed border region: report

December 9, 2009 (KHARTOUM) – The Egyptian authorities banned the Sudanese presidential assistant Musa Mohamed Ahmed from entering the disputed border region of Halayeb, Sudanese media reported today.

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Sudanese presidential assistant Musa Mohamed Ahmed (Al-Raed newspaper)

Ahmed told the independent Al-Sahafa newspaper that the purpose of his visit is to “assert the sovereignty over the [Halayeb] triangle and inspect the situation of the people and provide moral and financial support to the members of the Sudanese army unit trapped inside since the [Egyptian] occupation began”.

This is the first time Sudan reveals the presence of Sudanese army personnel inside the Red Sea border area which Cairo moved to assert control over in the mid-nineties.

The Sudanese official stressed that the area Halayeb is Sudanese and cannot be forsaken “under any circumstances”.

He said that Egyptian border patrols prevented him from entering by closing the main gate despite their knowledge of his planned visit.

Two Sudanese parliamentarians representing the region said that this is not the first time an incident like this happens to an official adding that it was meant to undermine the “dignity of the state”.

The issue of Halayeb came to surface last October when the Sudanese electoral commission took a surprise decision and announced that the residents of Halayeb will be allowed to register as voters in the elections saying that they are Sudanese citizens with constitutional rights under the color of law.

However, Egypt informally objected to the decision and conveyed messages to the Sudanese government saying the matter is a “red line” given Cairo’s long standing assertions that the area is part of its territory.

A few weeks later the Sudanese presidential adviser Mustafa Ismail visited Cairo and downplayed the dispute saying that the electoral commission did not consult with the government before making its decision.

The Beja Congress, a political group comprised mainly of ethnic tribes in Eastern Sudan and headed by Musa Mohamed Ahmed, is pressing Khartoum to take action on the dispute with Egypt up to and including resorting to international arbitration.

However, many observers say that Khartoum is reluctant on bringing up the issue with Egypt as it seeks the latter’s political backing particularly with regards to the row with the International Criminal Court (ICC) which issued an arrest warrant for Sudanese president Omer Hassan Al-Bashir.

The Halayeb triangle that overlooks the Red Sea has been a source of tension between the two countries as early as 1958, shortly after Sudan gained independence from British-Egyptian rule.

The border issue was laid to rest until the 1990’s when relations between the two countries worsened over accusations that Sudan is harboring Islamic militant groups seeking to overthrow the Egyptian regime.

A failed attempt on the life of the Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak was blamed on Khartoum after which Cairo assumed full control over the area.