Egypt's president in Sudan to improve ties

Apr 04, 2013, 4:59 PM EDT
REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah

KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) — Egypt's president began a two-day visit to Sudan on Thursday aimed at boosting cooperation after deteriorating relations between the two nations under ousted leader Hosni Mubarak.

It was Mohammed Morsi's first trip to Egypt's southern neighbor since he took office nine months ago and the longest by an Egyptian president in decades. Mubarak, Egypt's longtime autocratic leader, who was toppled in a 2011 popular uprising, accused Sudan of harboring those suspected of trying to assassinate him in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa in 1995.

Morsi and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir share an Islamist background, and both countries see the rise of an Islamist to power in Cairo as an opportunity to improve ties. The two nations share a long border and the Nile River that runs through both.

Al-Bashir visited Morsi last year after the Egyptian elections. Now, Morsi is visiting al-Bashir even though the Sudanese president has been named in an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court for his role in crimes committed during his rule in the war-torn region of Darfur. Egypt agrees with the African Union, which had dismissed the warrant as endangering Sudan's future and thinks al-Bashir enjoys immunity as a head of state.

A large official and business delegation accompanied Morsi, who faces an Egyptian economy in tatters following two years of unrest and dwindling foreign investment and tourism. Sudan, too, is facing hard economic times, following the separation of the south in 2011 and unresolved disputes with its new neighbor South Sudan over sharing oil wealth and borders.

The International Monetary Fund is urging both countries to adopt harsh austerity measures to meet dwindling government revenues.

"Undoubtedly, the internal and external challenges Egypt and Sudan face, and their aspiration for a better future makes it necessary that we work together to better use the resources and energies available to the two countries," Morsi told a gathering of officials and businessmen in Sudan's capital, Khartoum.

He said two land routes linking Sudan and Egypt would soon be inaugurated and new bilateral agricultural and industrial projects were underway.

Hundreds of Sudanese, waving Egyptian and Sudanese flags, lined a road from the airport to greet Morsi. One banner read: "We love you Morsi."

Sudan's foreign minister said Morsi's visit would "remove all impurities" that marked previous bilateral relations.

Both countries have vested interests in keeping intact a 1959 agreement that allocates the bulk of Nile River water to Sudan and Egypt, despite calls for a new agreement supported by nine countries such as Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda.