Two men assist an elderly Sudanese refugee who crossed into Chad to flee fighting in the Darfur region of Sudan – Copyright AFP Gueipeur Denis SASSOU
Warring generals in Sudan have agreed “in principle” to a seven-day truce, the government of neighbouring South Sudan said Tuesday, after regional envoys denounced repeated violations of previous truces.
The announcement came as diplomatic efforts intensified to end more than two weeks of war in Africa’s third-largest country.
Warnings have multiplied of the potential for a “catastrophic” humanitarian crisis that the UN said has already caused more than 430,000 people to flee their homes.
Sudan’s army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his deputy turned rival, Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, who commands the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, “have agreed in principle for a seven-day truce from May 4th to 11th,” the South Sudanese foreign ministry in Juba said in a statement.
Multiple truces agreed since fighting began on April 15 have been repeatedly violated, including one previously announced by South Sudan early in the fighting, which saw renewed air strikes on Tuesday.
“We are hearing some sporadic gunfire, the roaring of a warplane and the anti-aircraft fire at it,” said one resident of south Khartoum.
Other witnesses reported air strikes in north and east Khartoum.
The latest battles come during a 72-hour ceasefire extension announced by the warring sides on Sunday. The army said that measure came due to “US and Saudi mediation”.
The repeated violations sparked criticism earlier Tuesday at a meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, of the Extended Mechanism on the Sudan Crisis which brought together African, Arab, United Nations and other representatives.
“The two generals even though they accept the ceasefire, at the same time they continue fighting and shelling the city,” said Ismail Wais, of the eight-nation northeast African bloc IGAD.
Hanna Serwaa Tetteh, UN Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, told the meeting that, “Despite intense meditation efforts… that have obtained successive commitments by SAF and RSF to cease hostilities, the situation in Sudan remains of deep concern as the parties continue their fighting.”
– ‘Catastrophic’ –
The Addis talks aim to ensure a coordinated response, African Union Commission Chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat said, opening the meeting.
“Our priority today is to have the ceasefire prolonged and respected, then to ensure humanitarian assistance,” he said.
Kenyan President William Ruto said earlier that the conflict had reached “catastrophic levels” and it was imperative to find ways to provide humanitarian relief “with or without a ceasefire”.
The UN said that more than 100,000 refugees were estimated to have fled Sudan to neighbouring countries, including Sudanese refugees, South Sudanese returning home prematurely and others who were themselves refugees in Sudan.
The agency said it was bracing for the “possibility that over 800,000 people may flee”.
Despite the dire needs, on Tuesday the UN said its 2023 aid appeal for Sudan was $1.5 billion short.
But some relief has been arriving in the country.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said it had delivered six containers of medical equipment to Port Sudan on the Red Sea coast, including supplies for treating trauma injuries and severe acute malnutrition.
Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said it delivered 10 tons of supplies to a hospital in Khartoum as teams were starting to arrive to “launch emergency response activities.”
A Sudanese physician, Howida Elhassan, posted social media video of medical staff struggling to cope with a surge of wounded civilians at a hospital in Khartoum’s East Nile neighbourhood.
Blood appeared to stain the floor of the crowded facility where patients, one who appeared to grimace in pain with blood staining his shirt, lay or sat on cots.
At least 528 people have been killed and about 4,600 wounded in the violence, according to the health ministry.
Another 250 are estimated to be missing, said a spokesman for the Mafqoud (Missing) online project.
Munira Edwin turned to the project when her brother Babiker disappeared on the first day of fighting. They called her back nearly two weeks later.
“He had been found dead with two bullets” in his body, she said, struggling to hold back tears.
Discussions involving Saudi and US mediators were underway with the rival generals to firm up a truce, UN head of mission Volker Perthes said ahead of the South Sudanese announcement.
The two sides “told us that they are ready to start talks on technical level over a ceasefire,” Perthes told Saudi-owned Al Arabiya television in an interview released on Tuesday.
Burhan’s envoy, Dafaallah al-Haj, was in Cairo where he met senior Egyptian and Arab League officials. Haj told a press conference that he hoped the Arab League, African Union, Saudi Arabia and the US could play a role in such talks toward a more lasting truce.
Burhan and Daglo fell out after a 2021 military coup which derailed Sudan’s transition to elective civilian rule.
While diplomats have tried to stop the fighting, foreign governments scrambled to evacuate their citizens, thousands of whom have been brought to safety by air or sea in operations that are now winding down.
– Russian evacuation –
Russia’s armed forces said on Tuesday they were evacuating more than 200 people from Sudan on four military transport planes.
A group of Indonesian university students evacuated earlier landed in their home province of Aceh on Tuesday, where they were embraced by relatives.
But Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency on Tuesday said 20 buses prepared to evacuate hundreds were still blocked in Sudan but would travel to Port Sudan instead of to Egypt.
Beyond Khartoum, lawlessness has engulfed the West Darfur state capital, El Geneina.
More than 330,000 people have been internally displaced, over 70 percent of them in West and South Darfur states, according to the International Organization for Migration.
The Darfur region is still scarred by a war that erupted in 2003 when then hardline president Omar al-Bashir unleashed the Janjaweed militia, mainly recruited from Arab pastoralist tribes, against ethnic minority rebels.
The Janjaweed — whose actions led to war crimes against Bashir and others — later evolved into the RSF, which was formally created in 2013.