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Sudan battles rage as Saudi Arabia hosts latest truce talks

May 08, 2023
Sudan battles rage as Saudi Arabia hosts latest truce talks

KHARTOUM: Gun battles and air strikes on Sunday again flared in Sudan’s capital, which has been rocked by four weeks of fighting despite the latest ceasefire efforts backed by Saudi Arabia and the United States.

Multiple truce deals have been declared and quickly violated since fighting erupted between army and paramilitary forces on April 15 in the poverty-stricken country with a history of political instability.

Fierce combat since then has killed at least 700 people, most of them civilians, wounded thousands and driven a mass of exodus of Sudanese and foreign nationals.

In embattled Khartoum, fighter jets have bombed enemy positions as terrified residents stayed barricaded indoors amid dire shortages of water, food, medicines and other staples.

Across the Red Sea, in the Saudi city of Jeddah, talks were underway aiming for a ceasefire that could aid the desperate efforts to bring humanitarian aid to the besieged population.

The generals leading the warring parties have blamed each other for the violence but have said little about the talks being held in Jeddah since Saturday.

Army spokesman Brigadier General Nabil Abdalla said the talks were on how a truce “can be correctly implemented to serve the humanitarian side”, while Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, who heads the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), only said on Twitter that he welcomed the technical discussions.

Riyadh and Washington have supported the “pre-negotiation talks” and urged the belligerents to “get actively involved”.

Hopes for these and other international efforts to silence the guns have been modest as fighting has raged, threatening a descent into full-scale civil war and a major humanitarian disaster.

“The lowest common denominator of the international community is a cessation of hostilities,” said Sudan researcher Aly Verjee at Sweden’s University of Gothenburg. “But there is no apparent consensus on what to do beyond that initial objective.”

To be meaningful, Verjee said, any new truce declaration would require a “credible process to monitor and verify ceasefire non-compliance”, and mutually agreed “consequences in the likely event of ceasefire breaches”.

Meanwhile both sides have pushed on for military advantage on the ground, in the capital and in fighting elsewhere, including the long-troubled Darfur region.

Andreas Krieg of King’s College London said that “the battle for Khartoum is quickly developing into a war of attrition where both sides have similar capabilities and capacities”.

The army, commanded by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, has air power and probably more troops, at around 100,000 forces.

But the RSF, which emerged out of the notorious Janjaweed militia accused of war crimes in Darfur region, employs guerilla tactics that, Krieg said, can make them “more agile”.

Both the army and the RSF have sought to present themselves as protectors of democratic values, despite having jointly staged Sudan’s latest coup in 2021.

Burhan and his former deputy Daglo jointly ousted Sudan’s longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir in a 2019 palace coup, following mass pro-democracy protests.

A military-civilian administration was supposed to steer post-Bashir Sudan toward democracy, but the generals launched another coup in 2021 to assume full powers.

They have since fallen out in a bitter power struggle, with the latest flashpoint a plan to integrate the RSF into the army — a conflict that exploded into open warfare four weeks ago.

US intelligence chief Avril Haines has warned of a “protracted” conflict that would “create a greater potential for spillover challenges in the region”. At least 700 people have been killed in the fighting so far, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project. The Sudanese doctors´ union said 479 of the dead were civilians. Hundreds of thousands have been displaced either internally or to neighbouring countries, while the UN has warned of a deepening humanitarian crisis and the threat of famine.