Rival factions in Sudan agree to protect civilians: US official

The two sides agree to allow humanitarian aid to conflict-ridden Sudan but struggle to reach a ceasefire.

An aerial shot shows smoke rising from a bank in Sudan
A pillar of smoke rises from Omdurman, Sudan, as fighting continues on May 11 [Video still obtained by Reuters]

Sudan’s warring factions have committed to protecting civilians as well as ensuring the movement of humanitarian aid, according to United States officials, but a ceasefire remains elusive.

After a week of talks in the Saudi Arabian port of Jeddah, Sudan’s army and rival paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) signed a declaration on Friday that they would work towards a short-term ceasefire in further talks, US sources told the Reuters news agency.

“The two sides are quite far apart,” a senior US State Department official explained, speaking on condition of anonymity. Negotiators working with Saudi and US mediators set a goal of reaching a ceasefire deal in up to 10 days, the official said.

Clashes rocked Halfaya, an entry point to the Sudanese capital Khartoum, on Thursday. Residents reported hearing warplanes circle over Khartoum as well as Khartoum North and the adjoining city of Omdurman, but the fighting appeared calmer than on Wednesday.

In public, neither side has shown it is ready to offer concessions to end the conflict that erupted suddenly last month. The fighting has threatened to pitch Sudan into a civil war, killing hundreds of people and triggering a humanitarian crisis.

Previous ceasefire agreements have been repeatedly violated, leaving civilians to navigate a terrifying landscape of chaos and bombardment with failing power and water, little food and a collapsing health system.

The senior US State Department official said the declaration signed early on Friday seeks to improve the flow of humanitarian relief and begin the restoration of water and electricity services.

Mediators hope it will be possible “to arrange for the withdrawal of security forces from hospitals and clinics and to perform the respectful burial of the dead”, the official said.

The World Health Organization said more than 600 people have been killed and more than 5,000 injured in the fighting. Sudan’s Health Ministry said at least 450 people were killed in the western Darfur region.

Many have fled Khartoum and Darfur, leading to 700,000 people being internally displaced and 150,000 refugees entering neighbouring states, according to United Nations figures.

Cameron Hudson of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington said implementing any deal would be challenging.

“They are locked in this fight to the finish, and they will sign a piece of paper and Washington will celebrate a big victory, but I don’t think it will change the dynamics of the conflict,” Hudson said.

Western countries condemned abuses by both sides at a human rights meeting in Geneva, but Sudan’s envoy there said the conflict was “an internal affair”.

Source: Reuters