It remains unclear as to whether or not Turkey will build a naval dock at Suakin in Sudan, as Turkey has denied initial reports about naval facilities at the historic port.
On 26 December Reuters, quoting Sudan’s foreign minister, reported that Turkey will rebuild the ruined Ottoman port city of Suakin on Sudan’s Red Sea coast and construct a naval dock to maintain civilian and military vessels.
The restoration at Suakin was agreed during a visit to the ancient port by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, Sudanese Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour said.
Making the first trip by a Turkish president to Sudan, Erdogan said Turkey had been temporarily granted part of Suakin so it could rebuild the area as a tourist site and a transit point for pilgrims crossing the Red Sea to Mecca.
He said the Suakin deal was one of several, worth $650 million in total, agreed with Sudan, which emerged from two decades of US sanctions in October and is seeking to attract international investment.
The countries also agreed “to build a dock to maintain civilian and military vessels,” Ghandour told reporters, adding that they had signed an agreement “that could result in any kind of military cooperation”.
However, Erdogan was quoted by the Turkish Hurriyet newspaper on 28 December as saying “there is no such thing as a military port” after being asked about the nature of the Suakin deal. Erdogan said Turkey only plans to restore Ottoman-era ruins in the area and pursue tourism-related projects.
The agreements come three months after Turkey formally opened a $50 million military training base in Somalia as it exerts increasing influence in the region.
Suakin was Sudan’s major port when it was ruled by the Ottoman Empire, but fell into disuse over the last century after the construction of Port Sudan, 35 miles (60 km) to the north.
Speaking on 25 December in Khartoum, Erdogan said the refurbished port city would attract Mecca-bound pilgrims who would want to see the island’s history, helping Sudan’s tourism sector.
“Imagine, people from Turkey wishing to go on pilgrimage will come and visit the historical areas on Suakin Island,” Erdogan said. “From there … they will cross to Jeddah by boat.”
The other agreements signed during Erdogan’s visit include Turkish investment to build Khartoum’s planned new airport and private sector investments in cotton production, electricity generation and building grain silos and meat slaughterhouses.
Erdogan and Bashir said they aimed for trade between the two countries to reach $10 billion, Turkey’s Foreign Economic Relations Board said.
In October, the United States lifted a trade embargo and other penalties that had cut Sudan off from much of the global financial system.