Egypt’s Mubarak dismisses Ethiopia rebel claim

President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt
President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt

CAIRO (Reuters) – President Hosni Mubarak said in remarks published on Thursday that Egypt’s ties with Ethiopia are friendly and dismissed an Ethiopian assertion that Cairo was backing rebel groups in the Horn of Africa nation.

Egypt, Ethiopia and seven other countries through which the Nile River passes have been locked in more than a decade of contentious talks driven by anger over the perceived injustice of a previous Nile water treaty signed in 1929.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi told Reuters on Tuesday that Egypt could not win a war with Ethiopia over the Nile and that Cairo was supporting rebel groups in an attempt to destabilise his nation.

“This is the first time we hear that we support any group in any country. This is not something we do with any nation and this is not our form of conduct,” Mubarak told the state-run al-Ahram newspaper, his first remarks on the issue.

After Meles’ remarks, Egypt’s foreign ministry said it was “amazed” by Ethiopia’s suggestion that Cairo might turn to military action in a row over the Nile waters, saying it did not want confrontation.

“We have very amicable relations with Ethiopia,” Mubarak said. “I was surprised by these comments because this is something we cannot do with any Arab or African country.”

Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Kenya signed a deal to share the Nile’s waters in May, seeking to discard an original pact in which Egypt is entitled to 55.5 billion cubic metres of water a year, the lion’s share of the Nile’s total flow of around 84 billion cubic metres.

The five signatories have given the other Nile Basin countries one year to join the pact before putting it into action. Sudan has backed Egypt while Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi have so far refused to sign.

Egypt, almost totally dependent on the Nile and threatened by climate change, says the river’s waters feed a farm sector accounting for a third of all jobs. Cairo fears a reduction to its water flow may exacerbate concerns that population growth will outstrip water resources as early as 2017.