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Thursday 21 September 2023 Dublin: 12°C
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# Fighting
Air raids batter Sudanese capital ahead of first direct talks between warring sides
A joint US-Saudi statement welcomed the “start of pre-negotiation talks” and urged sustained global support to quell fighting.

LAST UPDATE | May 6th 2023, 5:53 PM

AIR STRIKES HAVE battered Sudan’s capital, as fighting entered a fourth week hours before the warring parties are to meet for their first direct talks.

Hundreds of people have been killed since the outbreak of the conflict on 15 April between Sudan’s de facto leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who leads the regular army, and his deputy turned rival Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, who commands the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

The fighting has seen warplanes bomb targets in Khartoum and the rival generals’ forces engage in intense street battles in the city of five million inhabitants. Multiple truces have been reached, but none has been respected.

In a joint statement, the United States and Saudi Arabia said the army and RSF would hold direct discussions in the Saudi city of Jeddah, describing them as “pre-negotiation talks”.

“Saudi Arabia and the United States urge both parties to take in consideration the interests of the Sudanese nation and its people and actively engage in the talks toward a ceasefire and end to the conflict,” they said.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan confirmed “the presence of representatives” from both sides, but there was no immediate indication that the talks had begun.

Sudanese army spokesman Brigadier General Nabil Abdalla told AFP the talks were “only over the truce and how it can be correctly implemented to serve the humanitarian side for civilians”.

Daglo, commonly known as Hemeti, took to Twitter to welcome the talks and thank the US, Saudi Arabia and other international players for their efforts.

The general, whose RSF descended from the Janjaweed militia accused of war crimes in Sudan’s Darfur region, affirmed “the need to reach a civilian transitional government that … achieves the aspirations of our people”.

Both the army and the RSF have sought to present themselves as protectors of democratic values, despite staging a coup in 2021 that derailed the country’s transition to civilian rule.

International mediation

This morning, witnesses said warplanes pounded various parts of Khartoum, where telecommunications company MTN said all of its services had been interrupted.

The army and the RSF accused one another of opening fire on the Turkish ambassador’s car, but did not report any casualties.

Burhan had given his backing to a seven-day ceasefire announced by South Sudan on Wednesday, but early on Friday the RSF said it was extending by three days a previous truce brokered under US-Saudi mediation.

The US-Saudi statement noted the efforts of other countries and organisations behind this weekend’s talks, including Britain, the United Arab Emirates, the Arab League, the African Union and other groups.

Khalid Omer Yousif, a former minister, expressed hope the talks would lead to “a complete ceasefire that paves the way for a comprehensive political solution”.

At least 700 people have been killed, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project. Thousands more have been injured in the fighting that has displaced hundreds of thousands either internally or across the border to neighbouring countries.

The Sudanese doctors’ union said 479 of the dead were civilians. Another 2,518 civilians were wounded.

Neighbouring South Sudan, which had negotiated the seven-day truce extension, said late Friday that its president, Salva Kiir, had spoken to the warring generals about “his concerns and those of the IGAD leaders” from the East African regional grouping.

While the army had previously said it favoured “African solutions to the continent’s issues”, it was ultimately the US-Saudi initiative that gained leverage as Sudan has been suspended from the African Union since the October 2021 coup.

Burhan and Daglo had together orchestrated the putsch, derailing the democratic transition that had been painstakingly stitched together following the ouster of longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir in 2019.

But they later fell out in a bitter power struggle, most recently over the integration of the RSF into the army.

Humanitarian crisis

The announcement of the direct talks came following warnings from US intelligence chief Avril Haines of a “protracted” conflict that would “create a greater potential for spillover challenges in the region”.

The fighting persisted despite warnings from US President Joe Biden on Thursday of possible sanctions against those responsible for “threatening the peace, security, and stability of Sudan” and “undermining Sudan’s democratic transition”.

Sudan suffered decades of sanctions during the rule of Bashir, ousted in a palace coup following mass street protests.

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, has said it is preparing for an outflow of 860,000 people as a result of the conflict.

The UN has also warned the fighting could plunge an additional 2.5 million people into food insecurity within months, meaning 19 million people would need aid to stave off famine.

Its children’s agency, UNICEF, said “the situation in Sudan has become fatal for a frighteningly large number of children”.

Children at risk

The conflict has killed about 700 people so far, mostly in Khartoum and the western Darfur region, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project.

The UN children’s agency, UNICEF, warned yesterday that “the situation in Sudan has become fatal for a frighteningly large number of children”.

Spokesman James Elder said UNICEF had received reports from a trusted partner – not yet independently verified by the United Nations – that 190 children were killed and 1,700 wounded during the conflict’s first 11 days.

He said the figures had been gathered from health facilities in Khartoum and Darfur since 15 April, meaning that they only cover children who actually made it to facilities in those areas.

“The reality is likely to be much worse,” Elder said.

Aid workers have struggled to get much-needed supplies to areas hit by violence.

According to the International Medical Corps, at least 18 aid workers have been killed amid the fierce urban fighting. The UN Human Rights Council said it would hold a special session next Thursday “to address the human rights impact of the ongoing conflict”.

Nearly 450,000 civilians have already fled their homes since the fighting began, the International Organization for Migration said, including more than 115,000 who have sought refuge in neighbouring countries.

© AFP 2023

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