Sudan’s Generals Balk at Talks as Thousands Flee Violence

The leaders of Sudan’s army and a paramilitary group fighting for control of the North African nation resisted renewed diplomatic efforts to bring them to the negotiating table, as residents fled mounting violence and foreign governments accelerated efforts to repatriate their staff.

(Bloomberg) — The leaders of Sudan’s army and a paramilitary group fighting for control of the North African nation resisted renewed diplomatic efforts to bring them to the negotiating table, as residents fled mounting violence and foreign governments accelerated efforts to repatriate their staff.

While officials continue to call on army leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and Rapid Support Forces head Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo to end the hostilities, neither of them is ready to negotiate, according to two senior diplomats briefed on the matter. Foreign governments are increasingly looking to the African Union and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, a regional bloc, to lead mediation efforts as they may be able to bring the pressure of countries in the region to bear on the two men, the diplomats said.

Sudan’s neighbors are “deeply worried” about the conflict spreading, but are refraining from intervening because of concern that if the fighting spills across their borders, the region may “disintegrate into warring factions,” said Nick Westcott, director of the Royal African Society in London. 

Late Monday, the two sides agreed to a three-day cease-fire to allow people to flee the violence, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said. The US is working with partners and Sudanese groups to create a committee “to oversee the negotiation, conclusion, and implementation of a permanent cessation of hostilities,” he said.

There was little sign the cease-fire would lead to peace talks, however. In a statement, the RSF framed the pause as a humanitarian truce that “establish humanitarian corridors, allowing citizens and residents to access essential resources, healthcare, and safe zones, while also evacuating diplomatic missions.” The statement didn’t mention broader negotiations. 

Sitting at the crossroads of the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa, Sudan has drawn interest from foreign powers including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt. Western powers have dangled billions of dollars in frozen aid in a push for a return of civilian rule in a country coveted by Russia and China for its strategic Red Sea coastline and mineral resources.

Egypt has historically backed the army in Sudan, and the two nations are united in opposing the construction of a massive hydro-power dam in Ethiopia — the neighboring country that’s the main source of their fresh water. The UAE and Saudi Arabia have forged close ties with the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces through the use of its fighters in a war in Yemen, while Dagalo is thought to have business links in the Gulf.

‘Fight to a Standstill’

“All, including Egypt, Chad, Ethiopia, need to support international mediation led by the AU and IGAD,” Westcott said. “Until that happens, the parties will fight to a standstill.”

The AU plans to address a media briefing on Friday about the situation in Sudan, the body’s Peace Commissioner Bankole Adeoye said by phone, without providing further details.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US is “deeply engaged” in trying to end the conflict and he’s spoken directly to Burhan and Dagalo as US officials engage counterparts from countries including Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and the UK about efforts to agree a cease-fire.

“We strongly support African-led efforts to help both mediate this crisis, to end the hostilities,” Blinken told reporters in Washington DC on Monday.

The violence that erupted April 15 has left 427 people dead and more than 3,700 wounded, with thousands of others fleeing their homes and seeking safety in neighboring countries. The fighting has upended plans for a power-sharing government that was supposed to lead the nation of about 45 million people to democratic elections after a 2021 coup.

There’s unlikely to be a negotiated solution to the conflict in the next three months because the regional and global diplomatic effort to achieve this has been “lacklustre at best,” Verisk Maplecroft Africa Analyst Benjamin Hunter said in a research note.

“A reduction in tensions between the Gulf states and Qatar, Iran and Turkey has reduced the risks of Sudan becoming a proxy war in the same vein as Yemen, Libya or Syria,” he said. However, the role of Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar, “who is supporting the RSF but is also backed by the UAE, demonstrates that Sudan is nonetheless likely to become enmeshed within broader political fissures. This will prolong the war and make finding a resolution more challenging.”

Fighting continued on Monday in Khartoum, the capital, and its neighboring sister city of Omdurman across the Nile River.

Residents of Khartoum are having to contend with a sharp increase in prices of essential items, shuttered health facilities and shortages of water, medicine, food and fuel, according to the United Nations. The country remains largely offline amid an internet blackout, with connectivity at only 2% of normal levels, global internet monitor NetBlocks said.

‘Not Leaving’

The UN relocated its internationally recruited personnel from the capital, Khartoum, to Port Sudan on the Red Sea as it vowed to maintain its presence in the country.

“Our presence on the ground has been adjusted in light of the security situation, but let me assure you that there is no plan or thinking of the UN leaving Sudan,” Volker Perthes, the organization’s special representative of the secretary-general for Sudan, said in a statement. A small number of foreign staff will remain “to work toward a resolution of the current crisis,” he said.

About 700 staff of the UN, international non-governmental organizations and embassy staff and their dependents have reached Port Sudan by road, the UN said on Monday. The relocations came after the UK and US militaries airlifted their diplomats to safety over the weekend, with the US ferrying consular staff in MH-47 Chinook helicopters.

Read more: US Military Evacuates Diplomats From Sudan as Conflict Rages

Saudi Arabia, the Netherlands, Greece, Ireland and Jordan are among the other countries who’ve also organized rescue efforts. Ghana said it’s working to evacuate its citizens through Ethiopia.   

Civilians are being displaced by violence in Khartoum and in six of Sudan’s 18 states, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said. “Cross-border movements from Sudan to Chad, Egypt and South Sudan have been observed,” it said.

–With assistance from Eric Ombok, Ania Nussbaum, Dana Khraiche and Courtney McBride.

(Updates with cease-fire announcement in 4th paragraph.)

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