International bodies push Sudan’s warring military factions to extend cease-fire

Smoke is seen rise from buildings during clashes between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the army in Khartoum North, Sudan. April 22, 2023. 

Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah | Reuters

Governments and international bodies are pushing Sudan’s two warring military factions to extend a fragile cease-fire due to end Thursday night, with remaining civilians and foreign nationals being urged to flee.

Fighting broke out on April 15 between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), led by Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan, and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), led by Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo (known as Hemedti).

The two factions had been sharing power in Khartoum since a military coup in 2021 until tensions began escalating earlier this month, and the conflict now threatens to destabilize the broader region while becoming a hotbed for long-standing geostrategic tensions among surrounding nations.

A U.S.-brokered three-day cease-fire came into force late Monday night, intended to allow humanitarian aid into the country and to enable civilians to exit, mostly via evacuation flights facilitated by foreign governments or on foot into neighboring Chad. Despite this, many foreign nationals are still in Sudan, while civilians are struggling to access food, water and fuel.

David Miliband, president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee (IRC), said a “rapid surge of humanitarian aid” would be needed to help the 47 million Sudanese remaining in the country.

“European leaders are focused on evacuating their citizens, but there is no time to waste in shifting focus on supporting and protecting those who remain,” Miliband said via an emailed statement.

“In order to prevent Sudan from sliding from a fragile state into a failed state, it is critical to ensure public services remain up and running in the country.”

Given the instability at the top of the government, with its transitional president and deputy leading the two warring factions, Miliband said local civil society and NGOs that have the greatest access to, and trust of, communities in need would have a critical role to play in this “perilous moment.”

However, allegations of violations of the truce have been leveled by both sides, while reports have emerged of persistent gunfire in the capital along with frequent violations by militias in Darfur, the large region in western Sudan bordering Chad, Libya and the Central African Republic.

Read more: A ‘tinderbox’ with no easy off-ramps: What the Sudan conflict means for the world

The Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General for Sudan, Volker Perthes, noted Wednesday that the cease-fire was “not being fully respected by the parties to the conflict” and called on both to lay down arms and facilitate humanitarian access.

“SRSG Perthes is deeply concerned by recent reports of violence in El Geneina (West Darfur), which increasingly appears to also be taking on inter-communal dimensions with attacks on civilians and looting and distribution of weapons among local communities. The attacks have also resulted in other mass looting, including of UN premises,” the U.N. Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS) said in a statement.

“The parties to the conflict must bring an end to this conflict immediately before the situation further escalates.”

People evacuated from Sudan arrive at a military airport in Amman on April 24, 2023. – Foreign countries rushed to evacuate their nationals from Sudan as deadly fighting raged into a second week between forces loyal to two rival generals. (Photo by Khalil MAZRAAWI / AFP) (Photo by KHALIL MAZRAAWI/AFP via Getty Images)

Khalil Mazraawi | AFP | Getty Images

The cease-fire is due to end at midnight on Thursday, though the Sudanese army said Wednesday night that Burhan had given initial approval to a proposition by regional body the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) for a 72-hour extension and a meeting of envoys from both sides in Juba, the capital of South Sudan.

The mediation effort is being led by South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and several other East African heads of state comprising IGAD’s mediation team.

IGAD Executive Secretary Workneh Gebeyehu on Wednesday said he “appreciated and commended President Kiir’s consistent engagement and support,” and voiced confidence that the international community’s efforts “will help stop the fighting and de-escalate the situation.”

The RSF has yet to make a public statement on the possibility of an extension, but accused the Sudanese army of attacking one of its bases north of Khartoum.

“Since morning, the extremist putschist forces have been attacking the Rapid Support Forces camp in Kafuri area, with air strikes and artillery. Our troops have confronted the attacking forces,” the paramilitary group said, though these claims have not been independently verified and the army is yet to respond.

Sudanese army soldiers, loyal to army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, sit atop a tank in the Red Sea city of Port Sudan, on April 20, 2023.

– | Afp | Getty Images

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke on Wednesday with African Union Commission Chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat about collaborative efforts to “create a sustainable cessation of hostilities.”

“Secretary Blinken and Chairperson Faki agreed that the AU’s continued leadership remains essential in pressing the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces to immediately cease military operations and allow unhindered humanitarian access,” State Department Spokesman Matthew Miller said in a readout Wednesday.

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly on Thursday urged British nationals to get to Wadi Seidna airstrip before midnight to be airlifted out of the country.

“I’m not able to make those same assurances once the ceasefire has ended, so if you’re planning to move, move now,” Cleverly told Sky News.

At least 512 people have been killed over the 12 days of fighting so far, according to the Sudanese health ministry, but the true toll is believed to be far higher.

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