Representatives of the two generals vying for power in Sudan met in Jeddah on Saturday, according to Saudi Arabia and the United States, opening the door to a ceasefire for a conflict that has already left hundreds dead. Washington and Riyadh welcome the “start of pre-negotiation dialogue” in this Saudi city between representatives of General Abdel Fatah al-Burhan’s army and those of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) led by General Mohamed Hamdan Daglo. “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United States urge both parties to take into consideration the interests of the Sudanese nation and its people and to actively participate in the talks to achieve a ceasefire and end the conflict,” they said in a joint statement.
This did not prevent the inhabitants of the capital Khartoum from waking up on Saturday to the sound of explosions and bombings, like every morning since April 15th. The 21 days of fighting between the two generals, allies in the 2021 military coup that removed civilians from power, have left 700 dead, 5,000 injured, 335,000 displaced, and 115,000 refugees.
Both sides have agreed to multiple truces and extensions since the outbreak of violence, but none have been respected so far. The meeting in Jeddah is to be used to “discuss details of the ceasefire,” the army said. Political issues will not be addressed. The military confirmed the presence of negotiators. The paramilitaries will be represented by allies of Daglo and his powerful brother Abderrahim, who finances the RSF with his gold mines, according to Sudanese officials.
The UN envoy in Sudan, Volker Perthes, explained that both sides say they are “prepared to initiate technical discussions” on the modalities of a ceasefire. According to Perthes, a real ceasefire is indispensable to return to political negotiations on the country’s democratic transition, initiated in 2019 after the fall of dictator Omar al-Bashir and cut short by the 2021 coup.
Beyond the direct victims, this new war is pushing hunger forward, which has already affected one in three of Sudan’s 45 million people. The UN says that between 2 and 2.5 million more people could suffer acute malnutrition if the conflict continues. The Sudanese are barricaded in their homes, afraid of stray bullets, and largely without a phone network after MTN announced the suspension of its services because it cannot feed its generators.
Despite the “catastrophe” denounced by humanitarian organizations, the international community is not reacting in a coordinated manner, with a meeting on Sunday between Arab League ministers overlapping with Saudi-US efforts and discussions by the African Union and IGAD, the East African regional organization. US intelligence services predict that the conflict will “prolong” because “both sides believe they can win it militarily and have little reason to go to negotiations.”
The UN warns that the exodus could reach 860,000 people in the coming months, both Sudanese and South Sudanese who had sought refuge in the neighboring country, and calls for around $450 million to help the country, one of the poorest in the world. At the northern border, Afdal Abdel Rahim is waiting to cross into Egypt.
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