Sudanese pin hopes on Jeddah talks between warring factions

KHARTOUM (Agencies): Sudanese are pinning their hopes on talks in Saudi Arabia between envoys of warring factions to end bloodshed that has killed hundreds and triggered a mass exodus, but there is no sign lasting relief will come anytime soon. There has been no word on the progress of the talks which began on Saturday between the army and the rival paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in the Saudi Red Sea city of Jeddah.
The combatants have said they would only try to tackle humanitarian issues like safe passage, not an end to the war. Numerous ceasefires have been violated since the conflict erupted on April 15. The sound of air strikes and clashes echoed anew across the capital Khartoum on Monday, witnesses said. “If the Jeddah negotiations fail to stop the war this would mean that we won’t be able to return to our homes and our lives,” said Tamader Ibrahim, a 35-year-old government employee in Bahri, across the Blue Nile river from Khartoum.
“We’re waiting on these negotiations because they’re our only hope.” Mahjoub Salah, a 28-year-old doctor, said the areas of the capital hit by violence changed from day to day. Salah witnessed heavy fighting and a neighbour getting shot in the abdomen in his central Khartoum district of Al Amarat last month, before renting a flat for his family southeast of the capital.
“We’re still waiting for our passports to get issued, but we don’t know how long this will take,” Salah said. “Then our plan is to travel from Port Sudan to Saudi Arabia.” The US-Saudi initiative is the first serious attempt to end fighting that has turned parts of Khartoum into war zones, stymied an internationally backed plan to usher in civilian rule after years of unrest, and touched off a humanitarian crisis. A Saudi Foreign Ministry statement said “pre-negotiation” talks began on Saturday and “will continue in the coming days in the expectation of reaching an effective short-term ceasefire to facilitate humanitarian assistance.”
However, the scope of talks is limited. “We are not for negotiation right now with (RSF chief) General Hemedti,” Dafallah Alhaj, an envoy to the armed forces chief, General Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan, said in South Sudan on Monday. “What we are doing now is just looking for a ceasefire so that we are able to provide a conducive situation for a humanitarian corridor, but for direct peace talks we are not ready,” he added.
Sudan’s Forces of Freedom and Change, a political grouping leading the plan to transition to a civilian democracy after decades of military-dominated authoritarianism, welcomed the Jeddah talks on Saturday. However, analysts have advised caution on the outcome, noting the presence of hardliners in the delegations and recent RSF territorial gains that may dissuade the powerful militia from concessions now. “Key domestic and international stakeholders are not there like Egypt and the UAE, who are the only ones so far who have proven that they can guarantee a ceasefire,” said Kholood Khair, director of Confluence Advisory, a Sudanese think-tank.
“That no civilians are present recreates failings of previous political negotiations,” she said, adding that African states that support civilian rule in Sudan were also not present. Battles since mid-April have killed hundreds of people and wounded thousands of others, disrupted aid supplies and sent 100,000 people fleeing abroad. United Nations aid chief Martin Griffiths is in Jeddah for the talks to engage on humanitarian issues in Sudan, his spokesperson said.
The RSF released what it said was a video of Sudanese army soldiers who surrendered. As one of them started to speak, shooting could be heard in the background. Thousands of people are seeking to leave from Port Sudan on boats to Saudi Arabia, paying for expensive commercial flights via Sudan’s only working airport, or using evacuation flights. Conflicts are not new to Sudan, a country that sits at a strategic crossroads between Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and the volatile Sahel region.
But most of them occurred in remote areas. This time intense fighting in Khartoum, one of Africa’s biggest cities, has made the conflict far more alarming for Sudanese. Since the fighting erupted, the UN refugee agency has registered more than 30,000 people crossing into South Sudan, more than 90 per cent of them South Sudanese. The true number is likely much higher, it says. Aid agencies fear the influx will worsen an already dire humanitarian crisis in South Sudan, which won independence from Khartoum in 2011 after decades of civil war.