NAIROBI, Kenya -- The African Union says it is deeply concerned by “the escalating military tension” between Ethiopia and Sudan after seven Sudanese soldiers and a civilian were killed in a border dispute.
The statement Wednesday by the chairman of the continent-wide organization urged both countries to cease armed hostilities and hold talks.
The incident happened in the disputed area of al-Fashaqa, which is known to Ethiopians as Alfashga.
Sudan’s Foreign Ministry reported the eight victims had been taken into Ethiopia after the soldiers were held captive in an area inside Sudan on June 22. A separate statement from Sudan's military described the killings as a “cowardly act” and said Khartoum would retaliate.
Ethiopian authorities have denied its government troops were responsible for the killings. A spokesman for the Ethiopian military blamed Sudanese forces for illegally entering Ethiopia and clashing with a local militia.
“Independent investigations into the matter can be launched with the participation of the two sides,” Getinent Adane said.
Residents of Tach Armacho, an Ethiopian town near the Sudan border, told The Associated Press by phone that their area was hit by heavy artillery fired from Sudan until Tuesday afternoon.
Ties between the neighboring countries have deteriorated in recent years amid a long-running border dispute over large swaths of agricultural land in the al-Fashaqa area. Sudan insists the lands are within its borders, according to an agreement that demarcated the boundary between their territories in the early 1900s.
Sporadic clashes have erupted over the past two years in that area, after Sudan said it reclaimed most of its territory and called on Ethiopia to withdraw troops from at least two locations it says are inside Sudan.
In November, Sudan said six of its troops were killed in an attack by Ethiopian military and militia forces in the area. The two nations have held talks, most recently in Khartoum in December 2020, to settle the dispute over al-Fashaqa, but have not made progress.
Ethiopia, in turn, says Sudan took advantage of the deadly conflict in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region to enter Ethiopian territory. It has called for Sudanese troops to return to positions they held before fighting erupted in Ethiopia's Tigray region in November 2020, pitting Ethiopia’s federal forces against regional fighters.