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Sudan’s PM visits Ethiopia, as Tigray refugees top 50,000

December 13, 2020 GMT
Tigrinyan refugees wait in line to receive cooked rice and lentils by Non Governmental Organization Muslim Aid, at Umm Rakouba refugee camp in Qadarif, eastern Sudan, Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)
Tigrinyan refugees wait in line to receive cooked rice and lentils by Non Governmental Organization Muslim Aid, at Umm Rakouba refugee camp in Qadarif, eastern Sudan, Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)
Tigrinyan refugees wait in line to receive cooked rice and lentils by Non Governmental Organization Muslim Aid, at Umm Rakouba refugee camp in Qadarif, eastern Sudan, Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)
Tigrinyan refugees wait in line to receive cooked rice and lentils by Non Governmental Organization Muslim Aid, at Umm Rakouba refugee camp in Qadarif, eastern Sudan, Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)
Tigrinyan refugees wait in line to receive cooked rice and lentils by Non Governmental Organization Muslim Aid, at Umm Rakouba refugee camp in Qadarif, eastern Sudan, Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

CAIRO (AP) — Sudan’s prime minister made a brief visit to Ethiopia on Sunday, his office said, amid a growing refugee crisis that has seen more than 50,000 Ethiopians flee conflict in the Tigray region into neighboring Sudan.

However, the Sudanese delegation returned home just hours after arriving, despite an announcement by the prime minister’s office that it would be a two-day visit. It was not immediately clear why the trip was cut short.

Abdalla Hamdok was met at the airport by his Ethiopian counterpart, Abiy Ahmed, and was accompanied by acting Sudanese Foreign Minister Omar Qamar al-Din and top intelligence and military officials.

“I look forward to having productive discussions on political, humanitarian and security matters of common concern,” Hamdok tweeted after landing in the capital, Addis Ababa.

Shortly after fighting erupted in Ethiopia’s Tigray region in early November, Sudan deployed more than 6,000 troops to the border with Ethiopia. The conflict has threatened to destabilize Ethiopia, the linchpin of the strategic Horn of Africa, and its neighbors.

After departing, Qamar al-Din said in video comments that the two sides agreed to resume their talks next week in Khartoum over a disputed border area.

Sudan’s transitional government has engaged in talks with Ethiopia in recent months to encourage Ethiopian farmers to withdraw from Sudan’s al-Fashqa border area, which they have cultivated for years.

The government of former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir had tolerated the incursion of Ethiopian farmers, who were sometimes supported by militias. In May, at least one Sudanese army officer and one child were killed in an attack by an Ethiopian militia group in Sudan’s eastern al-Qadarif province.

Hamdok’s visit came two weeks after the Ethiopian leader declared victory in the fight against the regional government in Tigray. However, clashes between Ethiopian federal and regional forces have continued.

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The conflict has alarmed the international humanitarian community, as the eruption in violence has largely cut off the Tigray region of 6 million people from the world.

The U.N. refugee agency said more than 50,000 Ethiopians have fled into remote areas of Sudan, first straining the generosity of local communities and then challenging the capacity of humanitarian groups that have hurried to set up a system to feed, shelter and care for the refugees.

The influx of refugees adds to Sudan’s economic and security burdens. The transitional government has already been struggling under the weight of decades of U.S. sanctions and mismanagement under former autocratic ruler al-Bashir, who was ousted from power last year.

Eastern Sudan, which borders Ethiopia’s Tigray region, was the scene of bouts of tribal violence in recent months that claimed dozens of lives.