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Bitter words between neighbours.

A border dispute is brewing between Sudan and Egypt over an area which may be rich in manganese, minerals and oil. Egypt is determined it should have sovereignty, while Sudan is complaining loudly.

A MINI WAR IS brewing between Egypt and Sudan over the border triangle of Halayeb straddling the two countries, which Cairo and Khartoum claim to be rich in manganese, several minerals and oil.

Sudan has complained the loudest about the presence of Egyptian technicians, engineers, military troops and others turning the region along the Red Sea coast, and about 1,000kms southeast of Cairo, into an economic draw for international concerns in the metals and petroleum industries.

According to Sudan's state-owned weekly Darfur al Gadida, Egypt has begun prospecting for manganese in the disputed border territory, adding that Egyptian experts, escorted by guards, were spotted there. It described the exploratory prospecting operation as "provocative" and the Sudanese government has repeatedly demanded the immediate withdrawal of Egyptian military and civilian personnel from Halayeb to allow for a negotiated settlement of the disputed area through a joint committee set up for that purpose.

Egypt's own semi-official daily Al Ahram reported recently that an agreement had been struck between Egypt, Japan and Germany to export some 15,000 tonnes of ferro-manganese bars worth $75m for the production of high quality steel. It cited the president of the Sinai Manganese Company, Mohammed Eid, as saying these quantities will be shipped in early April to Japan and Germany. He gave no details of how the mineral would be transported to the Sinai from Halayeb, which lacks a port and paved roads.

An agreement was also reached between his company and the Nasr Phosphates Company to export 20,000 tonnes of manganese from Halayeb worth E|pounds~6m (less than $2m) for use in the Sinai's ferro-manganese plant. The current production level is 10,000 tonnes and Egypt is looking at an optimum output of 100,000 tonnes.

The Sinai facility has been computerised and upgraded with an investment of E|pounds~150 million (about $48m) and provided with new equipment purchased from Norway and Sweden.

The Halayeb manganese mines were shut down about 20 years ago when Egyptian authorities at the time - under the late president Anwar Sadat - believed they were no longer a valid source of marketable quantities of the mineral. In a related development, the Saudi daily Al Riyadh reported that Egypt plans to export other metal ores also to be extracted from Halayeb.

The Egyptian Geological Survey Authority is planning an extensive study of all the region's metal resources ahead of exploration and production projects by Egyptian companies and/or joint ventures. According to Adel Abdel Kareem, the head of Qabda's Metal Processing Company, Egypt plans to step up its activities in Halayeb in search of magnetite, barite and tungsten.

Egyptian authorities have started a settlement operation by moving a number of their citizens to the area and encouraging them to stay in the arid desert where it is difficult to survive.

Since 1899, the disputed territory has remained under a shaky status quo imposed by the British colonial power, under which territorial sovereignty was exercised by Cairo, whereas sovereignty over its residents was imposed by Khartoum.

Controversy over the region erupted when the International Petroleum Company of Canada sought concessions from Sudan in 1991, thereby triggering an outburst from the Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation (EGPC), the state-run body regulating oil activities in Egypt. The Canadian firm had apparently been unsuccessful in a previous attempt to find oil in Egypt and said that Ottawa had been notified of the company's infraction. Sudanese officials have repeatedly said Khartoum was not prepared to compromise its sovereign rights.

In December, President Mubarak said Cairo would make "no concessions" over Halayeb and accused the Sudanese junta of sponsoring "terrorist operations" in North Africa in conjunction with Iran, a charge already denied by the fundamentalist-leaning Khartoum regime. In late January, Sudan said it would respond "with violence" to Egypt's efforts to assert its sovereignty on the Halayeb region but did not provide details of what that might entail.

The Egyptian daily Al Goumhouriya said Egyptian defence ministry officials had visited Halayeb and issued Egyptian birth certificates and identity cards to members of the Ababda and Beshareya tribes living in the border triangle.

In early January, Egypt's transport and communications minister, Soliman Metwalli, said his country would this year pave several roads in Halayeb. Several Egyptian cabinet ministers, officials as well as parliamentary committee members have visited Halayeb in recent weeks to be briefed on the situation and observe first-hand the various construction and industrial projects under way.
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Title Annotation:Egypt and Sudan dispute Halayeb region
Author:Fadil, Magda Abu
Publication:The Middle East
Date:May 1, 1993
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Next Article:Dry them out.

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