Sudan army, paramilitary RSF to return to negotiations

By Nafisa Eltahir, Khalid Abdelaziz and Daphne Psaledakis

CAIRO/DUBAI (Reuters) – Sudan’s army and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) said they will return to the U.S.- and Saudi-convened negotiations in Jeddah on Thursday, as a six-month war has taken its toll on the country and on both forces.

The Sudanese army on Wednesday accepted the invitation as “negotiations are one of the means that may end the conflict,” but said that it would not stop fighting.

The RSF also said it accepted the invitation, but on Wednesday published video of its second-in-command leading soldiers in Nyala, a major war zone.

Fighting broke out in mid-April over plans to integrate troops four years after the two forces ousted President Omar al-Bashir and 18 months after they led a coup to oust civilian partners.

Since then, fighting has caused what U.N. aid chief Martin Griffiths has called “one of the worst humanitarian nightmares in recent history”, decimating the capital and other major cities, displacing almost 6 million people and killing thousands. The RSF has been accused of an ethnic massacre in West Darfur.

The United States and Saudi Arabia suspended talks in June after numerous ceasefire violations.

“Both sides privately indicated that they are ready to resume talks,” said one of the U.S. officials, adding that months of fighting and a humanitarian crisis had weighed on both sides.

Eyewitnesses say that the pace of fighting has slowed in the past week, with both sides resorting to long-range artillery that have rained projectiles on residential neighborhoods.

Military sources say the army has struggled to make repairs to aging warplanes while the RSF has struggled to treat wounded soldiers. Both have had difficulty paying their exhausted forces, the sources said.

The African Union and regional body IGAD would be joining the Jeddah talks, which would initially focus on humanitarian issues, ceasefires and confidence-building measures in order to lay the groundwork for a negotiated solution to the conflict.

Civilian leaders, who have been holding organising meetings in Addis Ababa this week, would not be participating in initial rounds but could be brought in later, as one of the officials said both sides’ failure to protect civilians made clear they were no longer fit to rule the country going forward.

The army’s second in command, General Shams el-Din Kabbashi, emerged from the capital earlier this week for the first time since fighting started. In a video, he said the army was ready for negotiations, but “we will not let bygones be bygones.”

Despite the army’s willingness to talk, diplomats and Sudanese sources say Bashir loyalists, who have heavy influence in the military, reject negotiations and would prefer to continue to rebuild influence as fighting continues.

(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz and Nayera Abdallah in Dubai, Nafisa Eltahir and Muhammad Al Gebaly in Cairo and Daphne Psaledakis and Simon Lewis in Washington; Editing by Mark Heinrich, Jonathan Oatis, Mark Porter and Rod Nickel)