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KHARTOUM - As thousands of Ethiopians flee the Tigray conflict into neighboring Sudan, analysts in Khartoum say Sudan could play a key role in the conflict.
Sudan is channeling the refugees - estimated to be at least 20,000 - into the eastern cities of Qaddarif and Kassala, and preparing camps to house them.
Meanwhile, Sudanese Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok says he called his Ethiopian counterpart, Abiy Ahmed, and said Sudan is taking an unbiased position toward the conflict. He called for African mediation to end the war and start talks between Ethiopia's federal government and the Tigray People's Liberation Front.
Sudanese analysts believe the country has a crucial role to play due to its mutual interests with both Ethiopia and Eritrea, which was attacked by the TPLF over the weekend.
African Affairs special researcher Ibrahim Nassir notes that Sudan once supported the Tigray region when it fought against Ethiopian dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam.
Now the situation is different, he says. The new Sudanese government is obviously wanting to resolve its own internal issues and not get involved in foreign issues. He says it's useful for Sudan to support Ethiopian stability, as its relationship with Ethiopia is a balancing component to Sudan's relations with other countries, especially Egypt.
The Tigray region sits in the northernmost part of Ethiopia. The TPLF dominated national politics in Ethiopia until Abiy Ahmed, from the Oromo region, was elected in 2018.
Abiy improved relations with Sudan by recognizing a 1972 pact that defined the Sudanese-Ethiopian border, an issue that had simmered for decades.
Nassir thinks Sudan might eventually back Abiy and the federal government in the Tigray conflict.
Nassir says if Sudan's national security becomes impacted by this crisis, it will definitely take a side, especially given that Abiy has started to flirt with Khartoum's government by resolving the border issues. That might make Sudan pragmatic due to its interests and support the federal government of Ethiopia.
Abiy also played a crucial role in mediating between Sudan's military generals and civilians after the ouster of longtime Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in 2019. The mediation led to a power-sharing agreement that guides Sudan's transitional government.
Meanwhile, Sudan imposed a state of emergency along the Ethiopian border last month after tribal clashes in the area killed dozens of people.
Observers have voiced concern that the fragile situation in eastern Sudan, along with the Tigray conflict, could open the way for criminal networks in the region, including human traffickers. Ethiopia's government took military action against Tigray after the region's forces attacked a military camp of federal troops November 4, according to the prime minister. The TPLF denied the attack.