ISTANBUL/KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Turkey will rebuild a ruined Ottoman port city on Sudan’s Red Sea coast and construct a naval dock to maintain civilian and military vessels, Sudan’s foreign minister said on Tuesday, as Ankara expands military and economic ties in Africa.
The restoration at Suakin was agreed during a visit to the ancient port by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, 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 U.S. 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”.
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 Monday 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.
Sudan’s state minister for investment has said he aims to attract investment of $10 billion a year, compared to $1 billion estimated by the United Nations for 2016.
Additional reporting by Dahlia Nehme in Cairo; Editing by Dominic Evans and Robin Pomeroy