The head of a powerful Sudanese paramilitary group has said he is ready to meet the army chief and leader of the country’s ruling council to de-escalate military tensions that have raised fears of armed confrontation, according to a statement by a group of mediators.
The army on Thursday warned of a possible clash with members of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), in the most public sign of long-simmering disagreements that are hampering efforts to restore civilian rule. The RSF began redeploying units in the capital, Khartoum, and elsewhere amid talks last month on its integration into the military under a transition plan leading to new elections.
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The situation escalated after the deployment of some RSF personnel near a major military airport in the northern city of Merowe on Wednesday, prompting the army to make a statement saying the moves were illegal.
RSF chief General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, better known in Sudan as Hemeti, is deputy leader of the ruling Sovereign Council headed by army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.
After the growing rift surfaced on Thursday, several local and international players stepped forward with offers of mediation, including Finance Minister Jibril Ibrahim, Darfur Governor Minni Minawi and Sovereign Council member Malik Agar, three former rebel leaders who received posts following a 2020 peace deal.
“After an honest and serious conversation, [Dagalo] assured us of his total commitment to not escalate, and his readiness to sit with his brother the head of the Sovereign Council and his brothers in the armed forces at any time and without condition,” a statement from the three men said.
Al Jazeera’s Hiba Morgan, reporting from Khartoum, said political parties in Sudan have been trying to mediate between the two sides, urging them “to use wisdom rather than force to resolve the differences”.
“People in Sudan are concerned that it could turn into a full-on war between the two sides,” Morgan said. “Both are armed and have forces around the country.”
She said despite positive messages coming from the rival camps, the situation in Merowe remained the same.
“In fact, the commander of the forces in Merowe has told Al Jazeera that there are more reinforcements arriving for the Rapid Support Forces despite the fact that the military has requested the RSF to withdraw their positions,” Morgan added.
Sources close to al-Burhan and Hemeti were quoted by the Reuters news agency on Friday that the two men remain at odds over who would be the commander-in-chief of the military during a multiyear integration period, which the RSF says should be the civilian head of state, a situation the army rejects.
Army sources told Reuters that to de-escalate the RSF needed to withdraw its forces from Merowe and that its movements needed to happen in coordination with the military and within legal limits.
The RSF, which operates under a special law and has its own chain of command, is a powerful former militia that has been accused of widespread human rights abuses, especially during the conflict in Sudan’s Darfur region. Dagalo climbed Sudan’s political ladder by serving under former leader Omar al-Bashir, under whom the forces were recognised in 2017. Al-Bashir was removed after a mass protest movement against him in 2019.
The military then agreed to share power with civilians ahead of elections, but that arrangement was abruptly halted by a coup by the army and the RSF in October 2021 that triggered new mass pro-democracy rallies across Sudan.
Separately, envoys and representatives from France, Germany, Norway, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union issued a joint statement on Thursday expressing their deep concern over the heightened tensions.
“Escalatory actions threaten to derail negotiations toward the establishment of a civilian-led transitional government. We call on Sudan’s military and civilian leaders to take active steps to reduce tensions. We urge them to hold to their commitments and engage constructively to resolve outstanding issues on security sector reform to establish a future unified, professional military accountable to a civilian government,” the statement said.