The Ethiopian government recently released rebel prisoners from the Benshangul People’s Liberation Movement (BPML), which operates from Sudan, as part of a peace process geared toward protecting the controversial Grand Renaissance Dam from attack, according to local news reports.
One analyst quoted by Egypt’s Bikya.news said Nile water politics likely played a role in the peace negotiations.
“Ethiopia cannot afford to lose the dam project and needs to make certain that it is safe, especially with the close ties the BPML had with Sudan,” he said.
“We may never know for sure what precipitated the release of the prisoners, but it is clear that for now, the dam project remains safe and without fear of being attacked,” the analyst concluded.
The guerilla organization had previously threatened to attack the dam on the Blue Nile near the Sudanese border.
However, the Ethiopian government insists that the prisoner release was simply a move to forward peace, and that once the BPLM agrees to lay down its weapons, Ethiopia will also move forward.
A Sudanese embassy official was quoted by the news outlet as saying he did not think the release was a direct attempt to protect the dam, but could not rule out water politics altogether. The future of Ethiopian and Sudanese relations depends on water, he added.
Back in August, international whistleblower site Wikileaks leaked data from the Global Intelligence Files of Texas-based private intelligence firm Stratfor, which included emails from Egyptian officials dating back to 2010 that discussed coordinating with Sudan to build a base from which to possibly bomb Ethiopian dams if they negatively affected the flow of Nile water.
Egyptian officials adamantly denied the reports.
Meanwhile, Ethiopia announced this week that its other large controversial dam project, Gilgel Gibe III, will be postponed for a year because of construction and environmental issues.
A Ministry of Water and Energy expert was quoted by Ethiopian news sources are saying the mega dam on the Omo River would be completed before the end of the year. However, the reservoir missed its seasonal intake target and is behind schedule for the Roller Compact Concrete works.
The project is 71 percent complete, according to the government. It is expected to play an integral role in meeting Ethiopia’s energy needs and energy export plans.
However, many international organizations have fought against the project, saying the dam will displace hundreds of thousands of people and greatly affect river water flows, which in turn could dramatically decrease water levels at Lake Turkana, the world’s largest desert lake.
The government denies the claims, saying the dam will protect against and control seasonal floods, and there is little to no chance of it affecting the lake.