CAIRO (AP) — Sudan’s warring generals have agreed to send representatives for negotiations, possibly in Saudi Arabia, the country’s top UN official said Monday, even as the two sides clashed in the capital Khartoum over despite another three-day extension of a fragile ceasefire.
If the talks go through, they would initially focus on establishing a “stable and credible” ceasefire overseen by domestic and international observers, Volker Perthes told The Associated Press. However, he warned that there are still challenges in carrying out the negotiations.
A series of temporary truces over the past week has eased fighting in only some areas, while fierce battles have continued elsewhere, driving civilians from their homes and pushing the country further toward disaster.
Aid groups have been trying to restore the flow of aid to a country where almost a third of the population of 46 million relied on international aid even before the explosion of violence. The UN food agency said on Monday it was ending a temporary suspension of its operations in Sudan, put in place after three members of its team were killed in the war-torn Darfur region early in the fighting. .
The World Food Program will resume food distribution in four provinces, al-Qadaref, Gezira, Kassala and White Nile, working in areas where security permits, Executive Director Cindy McCain said. The number of people who need help “will grow significantly as the fighting continues,” she said. “To better protect our needed aid workers and the people of Sudan, the fighting must stop.”
one day beforethe International Committee of the Red Cross flew in a plane loaded with medical supplies to bring some relief to hospitals overwhelmed by chaos.
The United States conducted its first evacuation of American civilians from Sudan. Guarded by US military drones, a group of Americans made the perilous road trip from Khartoum, to the Red Sea city of Port Sudan. On Monday, a US Navy fast transport ship carried 308 evacuees from Port Sudan to the Saudi port of Jeddah, according to Saudi officials.
Direct talks, if they take place, would be the first major sign of progress since fighting broke out on April 15 between the army and a rival paramilitary group called the Rapid Support Forces. Throughout much of the conflict, the head of the army, General Abdel Fattah Burhan, and the RSF commander, General Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, seemed determined to fight to the end.
Their struggle for power has put millions of Sudanese in the midst of gunfire, artillery barrages and air strikes. Tens of thousands have fled Khartoum and other cities, and more than two-thirds of hospitals in areas with active fighting are out of service, with fighters looting scarce supplies.
At least 436 civilians have been killed and more than 1,200 wounded since the fighting began, according to the latest figures on Monday from the Doctors Union, which tracks civilian casualties. As of a week ago, Sudan’s Health Ministry had counted at least 530 people dead, including civilians and combatants, with another 4,500 wounded, but the figures have not been updated since.
Explosions and gunfire rang out in parts of Khartoum and its neighboring city, Omdurman, on Monday, residents said, hours after the two sides pledged to extend the ceasefire by 72 hours.
Atiya Abdalla Atiya, secretary of the Doctors Union, said fighting broke out early Monday in different areas of Khartoum, including the military headquarters, the Republican Palace and the international airport. There were also clashes in the exclusive Kafouri neighborhood, he said.
Many hospitals in the capital have been out of service or inaccessible due to the fighting, while others have been occupied by the warring factions, particularly the RSF, he said.
The United States and Saudi Arabia have led an international campaign to get the generals to stop fighting and then enter into deeper negotiations to resolve the crisis.
Speaking from Port Sudan, Perthes said there were still huge challenges in getting the two sides to comply with a real cessation of fighting. One possibility was to set up a monitoring mechanism that would include Sudanese and foreign observers, “but that has to be negotiated,” he said.
Talks on a sustained ceasefire could take place in Saudi Arabia or South Sudan, he said, adding that the former may be easier logistically, though each side would need safe passage through the other’s territory. . “That is very difficult in a situation where there is a lack of trust,” he said.
For the past week, people have been pouring out of Khartoum and other fighting-torn urban areas, moving en masse to wherever they can find safety.
In Port Sudan, thousands camped out in the hope of boarding the evacuation ferries. Many families, including young children, have been sleeping outside for days, including hundreds of Syrians and Yemenis who are so far unable to get on the boats.
“Most of the people are sitting on their suitcases,” said a Syrian, Mohamed Amr Mustafa.
More than 70,000 South Sudanese refugees living in Khartoum have fled to neighboring White Nile province, settling in already overcrowded camps, said Mustafa Amr Abarou, a spokesman for the Sudanese refugee agency. At least 10 truckloads of people fleeing Khartoum continue to arrive a day, straining the agency’s capabilities, he said. Sudan hosts more than 1.3 million refugees, including 800,000 from South Sudan, according to UN figures.
The outbreak of fighting capped months of worsening Burhan-Dagalo disputes as the international community tried to reach an agreement to establish a civilian government.
“We all saw the enormous tensions,” Perthes said. “Our efforts to de-escalate were unsuccessful.” He said he had repeatedly warned that “any spark” could cause the power struggle to break out.
Perthes warned of a “major humanitarian crisis” as people were running out of food and fresh water in Khartoum and water systems damaged by the fighting.
A real ceasefire is vital to gain access to residents who are trapped in their homes or injured, he said. “If we don’t get a stable ceasefire… the humanitarian situation will be even worse.”
Associated Press writer Nick El Hajj in Dubai, United Arab Emirates contributed to this report.