Sudan suspends membership in IGAD regional bloc

Government accused east African bloc of ‘violating’ Sudan’s sovereignty by inviting RSF chief to a summit.

Families escaping West Darfur cross into Chad after a wave of ethnic violence, November 7, 2023
The war in Sudan has displaced more than seven million people [File: El Tayeb Siddig/Reuters]

The government of war-ravaged Sudan says it has suspended its membership in the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the east African regional bloc that has tried to broker talks between the country’s warring parties.

Saturday’s announcement was made by the foreign ministry, which is loyal to Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the army chief and Sudan’s de facto leader.

The Sudanese army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary group have been fighting for nine months in a war that has killed thousands of people and displaced more than seven million.

In a statement, the foreign ministry said Burhan sent a letter to President Ismail Omar Guelleho of Djibouti, current chair of IGAD, “to inform him of the Sudanese government decision suspending its membership in this organisation”.

The government had announced this week that it was freezing its relations with the bloc in advance of a meeting in Uganda on Thursday, after it invited RSF head Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagalo. It accused the bloc of “violating Sudan’s sovereignty” and setting a “dangerous precedent”.

At its summit on Thursday, IGAD reiterated its call for “an immediate and unconditional ceasefire” in the “unjust war affecting the people” of Sudan.

The bloc also expressed “continued readiness to offer its good offices to facilitate an all-inclusive peace process”, and again called for a face-to-face meeting between the two sides.

A final communique from the extraordinary assembly gave the generals two weeks to meet.

Sudan’s foreign ministry said it was this item, placed on the agenda without Sudan’s approval, which led it to the further step of suspending its membership.

The ministry also accused the summit communique of violating Sudan’s sovereignty and “wounding the sentiments of victims of rebel militia atrocities”, a reference to the RSF.

IGAD, in parallel with the United States and Saudi Arabia, had repeatedly attempted to mediate between the two sides, to no avail.

Months of war

The war erupted in mid-April over an internationally backed plan to merge the RSF into the army and launch a transition towards elections.

The army and the RSF had shared power after longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir was toppled during a popular uprising in 2019. Before they came to blows, they jointly staged a coup in 2021 that upended efforts to steer Sudan towards democracy.

Throughout the conflict, both sides have been accused of war crimes, including the indiscriminate shelling of residential areas, torture and arbitrary detention of civilians.

The RSF has also been accused of ethnically motivated mass killings – especially in Darfur – as well as rampant looting and the use of rape as a weapon of war.

More than 13,000 people have been killed in the conflict, according to a conservative estimate by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project.

An estimated 7.5 million civilians have fled the fighting, either abroad or to other parts of the country, according to United Nations figures.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies