Sudan’s warring sides begin talks in Saudi Arabia as fighting rages on

An eyewitness in Khartoum reports clashes and airstrikes over residential areas

Aziz El Yaakoubi
Riyadh
,Nafisa Eltahir
Saturday 06 May 2023 22:38 BST
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Sudan's warring parties hold first negotiations in Saudi Arabia

Sudan’s warring sides have started talks in Jeddah as international mediators pressed for an end to the devastating conflict.

The US-Saudi initiative is an attempt to end three weeks of fighting between Sudan’s army and the rival paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF). The conflict has turned parts of the Sudanese capital Khartoum into a war zone and derailed plans to usher in civilian rule following years of unrest and uprisings.

Riyadh and Washington earlier welcomed the “pre-negotiation talks” between the two sides and urged them to actively engage following numerous violated ceasefires. But both sides have made it clear they would only discuss a humanitarian truce, not negotiate an end to the war.

Confirming his group’s attendance, RSF leader Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, commonly know as Hemedti, said he hoped the talks would achieve their intended aim of securing safe passage for civilians.

Sudan’s armed forces said they sent a delegation to the Red Sea city, but special envoy Dafallah Alhaj said the army would not sit down directly with any delegation that the “rebellious” RSF might send. Hemedti has meanwhile vowed to either capture or kill army leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and there was also evidence on the ground that both sides remain unwilling to make compromises to end the bloodshed.

In the city of Bahri across the Nile from Khartoum, warplanes were heard overnight and explosions startled residents. “We don’t leave the house because we’re scared of stray bullets,” said a local who gave his name as Ahmed.

An eyewitness in eastern Khartoum reported gun clashes and airstrikes over residential areas on Saturday. The Turkish ambassador’s car also came under fire from unknown assailants, a Turkish diplomatic source said. The envoy made it safely to the embassy. Turkey’s foreign minister said Turkey would move its embassy from Khartoum to Port Sudan following the attack.

Also, a bus carrying Sudanese fleeing the fighting, overturned in Egypt’s southern province of Beni Suef, leaving at least 36 Sudanese, including women and children, and two Egyptians injured, local authorities said.

Tens of thousands of Sudanese have crossed into Egypt since the fighting broke out.

Saudi foreign minister Faisal bin Farhan said in a tweet he hoped both sides would “engage in dialogue that we hope will lead to the end of the conflict”.

The conflict erupted in mid-April, following the collapse of an internationally backed plan for a transition to democracy.

Mr Burhan, a career army officer, heads a ruling council installed after the 2019 ousting of long-time autocrat Omar al-Bashir and a 2021 military coup, while Hemedti, a former miitia leader who made his name in the Darfur conflict, is his deputy.

Prior to the fighting, Hemedti had been taking steps like moving closer to a civilian coalition that suggest he has big political plans. Mr Burhan has blamed the war on his “ambitions”.

Western powers have backed the transition to a civilian government in a country that sits at a strategic crossroads between Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Africa’s volatile Sahel region.

Jake Sullivan, White House national security adviser, was travelling to Saudi Arabia for talks with Saudi leaders.

Saudi Arabia has had close ties to Mr Burhan and Hemedti, both of whom sent troops to help the Saudi-led coalition in its war against the Houthi group in Yemen. The kingdom is also focused on security in the Red Sea, which it shares with Sudan.

The UN has significantly cut back its operations in Sudan after three of its employees were killed and its warehouses were looted, and sought guarantees of safe passage of humanitarian aid. The fighting has also impacted vital infrastructure and caused the closure of most hospitals in conflict areas. UN agencies have warned of a humanitarian catastrophe if clashes continue.

The World Health Organisation said on Saturday it had delivered medical aid to Port Sudan, but was awaiting security and access clearances that have prevented several such shipments from reaching Khartoum, where the few hospitals operating are running out of supplies.

Reuters

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