Egypt Casts Net Over Disputed Territory _ With Bureaucracy
Jul. 14, 1995
CAIRO, Egypt (AP) _ Without war, without negotiation, Egypt is turning its claim over a disputed border region into reality with plans to build houses, mosques and factories. And no one _ other than Sudan _ is likely to complain.
The area known as Halaib, populated largely by nomads with Sudanese roots, has become the center of the worst crisis in decades between the two Arab neighbors. Both claim the region, and both vow not to surrender an inch of it.
Talk of war has gradually faded. But in the tense days after President Hosni Mubarak accused Sudan of plotting the June 26 attempt on his life, Sudanese and Egyptian policemen skirmished in the area, and at least two Sudanese were killed.
Now, Egypt is seeking to resolve the dispute on its own terms by claiming de facto control of the region, located on the Red Sea north of the 22nd parallel that Egypt insists forms its border with Sudan.
Egypt this week said it would build houses, mosques and factories in the area. Plans for sea and airports, tourism and mining projects as well as new roads also are under way, said Mohammed Suleiman, minister of state for new communities.
On Friday, Egypt began tests to broadcast cultural programs to the area via a new station to be called Radio Halaib.
Sudan's response has been largely rhetorical, with the implicit recognition that Egypt's well-trained, well-armed military of 440,000 would overwhelm Sudan's 118,500-strong army, much of it tied down fighting a long-running war with southern rebels.
``The Egyptians ... can build whatever buildings, they can make whatever sort of adjustments they can, but there are two things they will never be able to change: that's history and geography,'' said Bashir al-Hassan, a diplomat at the Sudanese Embassy.
Sudan has offered to resolve the crisis through direct negotiations or arbitration through the Arab League or the U.N. Security Council, both options repeatedly rejected by Egypt.
Egyptian officials, for their part, refuse to comment on plans to bolster Egypt's presence in Halaib. A typical government response is that Halaib is Egyptian and is treated like any other province.
Egypt's bold moves come with the realization that few are likely to protest on behalf of Sudan. The Islamic fundamentalist regime is alienated in the region and is accused by Washington of supporting terrorism.
Importantly, barren Halaib holds the promise of oil.
Tensions flared in 1991, when Sudan tried to lease oil rights in the Red Sea off Halaib to a Canadian company. Egypt blocked the move, but sovereignty over off-shore rights has not been resolved.
The claims to Halaib date to the turn of the century. An 1899 treaty between Britain and Egypt, then the rulers of Sudan, made Halaib part of Egypt. But three years later, Egypt assigned Sudan administrative control, giving clout to Sudan's claim.
The towns in Halaib are little more than outposts with a few housing compounds used part-time by thousands of migrating bedouins.
In recent years Egypt has dug wells, built at least three desalination plants, schools, health and communications centers, and a few roads.
Egyptian military posts dot the region, and Sudan has an estimated 900 police carrying out administrative duties in the area.