ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Leaders of Sudan, Ethiopia and Egypt said they were hopeful that the African Union (AU) could help them broker a deal to end a decade-long dispute over water supplies within two or three weeks.
Ethiopia, whose Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) is worrying its downstream neighbours Egypt and Sudan, said it would fill the reservoir in a few weeks as planned, providing enough time for talks to be concluded.
Tortuous negotiations over the years have left the two nations and their neighbour Sudan short of an agreement to regulate how Ethiopia will operate the dam and fill its reservoir, while protecting Egypt's scarce water supplies from the Nile.
Ethiopian water minister Seleshi Bekele said consensus had been reached to finalise a deal within two to three weeks, a day after leaders from the three countries, and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa who chairs the AU, held an online summit.
Billene Seyoum, a spokeswoman for Ethiopia's prime minister, said that in Friday's agreement there was "no divergence from Ethiopia's original position of filling the dam".
The Egyptian presidency said in a statement after the summit that Ethiopia would not fill the dam unilaterally.
AU Commission Chair Moussa Faki Mahamat said in a separate statement that more than 90% of issues in the talks had been resolved, and that a committee of representatives of the three countries, South Africa, and technical personnel from the AU, would work to resolve outstanding legal and technical points.
The committee would issue a report on progress of the negotiations in a week.
The GERD is being built about 15 km (9 miles) from the border with Sudan on the Blue Nile, the source of most of the Nile's waters.
Ethiopia says the $4 billion hydropower project, which will have an installed capacity of 6,450 megawatts, is essential to its economic development. Its Prime Minister's Office said the three countries had agreed that the Nile and the GERD "are African issues that must be given African solutions".
Friday's round of talks brokered by the AU is the latest attempt to progress negotiations which have repeatedly stalled due to technical and political disagreements. They also signal an intention to solve the issue without foreign intervention.
Ethiopia's statement said the AU and not the U.N. Security Council will assist in the talks and provide technical support.
Cairo had appealed to the Council in a last-ditch diplomatic move aimed at stopping Ethiopia from filling the dam. The Council was expected to hold a public meeting on Monday to discuss the issue.
(Reporting by Giulia Paravicini; Additional reporting by Aidan Lewis in Cairo; Editing by Louise Heavens and David Holmes)