Sudan’s warring parties have held direct talks in Saudi Arabia as mediators press for an end to the conflict that has killed hundreds and forced tens of thousands to flee.
Saudi Arabia and the United States welcomed the start of “pre-negotiation talks” between the Sudanese army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in the Saudi coastal city of Jeddah on Saturday, and urged the warring parties to actively engage and reach an agreement on a lasting ceasefire, a joint statement said.
Since the conflict broke out in mid-April, many ceasefire agreements have been violated. The U.S. and Saudi initiative in Jeddah is the first serious attempt to end the fighting that is jeopardizing Sudan’s fragile transition after years of turmoil and uprisings.
Sudan’s Forces for Freedom and Change, a political group leading an internationally backed plan to convert the country to civilian rule, also welcomed the Jeddah talks.
The pro-democracy movement said the discussions would be a “first step” in preventing the country from collapsing, and called on military leaders and Support Forces Without Borders to make “bold decisions” to end the conflict.
Confirming his group’s attendance, RSF leader Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, commonly known as Hemedti, said he hoped the talks would achieve their intended goal of ensuring safe passage for civilians.
“We still hope that the discussions will lead to desired outcomes,” he said.
At least 550 people, including civilians, had been killed and more than 4,900 wounded as of Monday, according to Sudan’s health ministry.
Clashes broke out between General Abdul Fattah al-Burhan’s army and Hemeti’s Rapid Support Forces on 15 April after an internationally-backed plan to transition to civilian parties failed.
Al-Burhan, a career military officer, leads a ruling council formed after a military coup in 2021 and the removal of longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir in 2019, with Hemedti as his deputy.
Al Jazeera’s Shiba Morgan reported from the capital Khartoum that the talks focused on opening humanitarian corridors for people fleeing the fighting.
“These talks are not about… trying to reach a political or military solution to the differences between the Rapid Support Forces and the Sudanese army,” she said.
“The military says its focus is on those in need, and there are many of them in the capital and across the country. Humanitarian groups have repeatedly said that security concerns are preventing them from reaching those in need, whether in Khartoum or not.” Mu is still in a neighboring country.”
Discussions will also involve protecting civilian infrastructure, including overwhelmed medical facilities with severe shortages of staff and medical supplies, a military official said.
They will also discuss a mechanism to monitor the current ceasefire, one of a series of truces that have failed to stop the fighting, a Reporters Without Borders official said.
The United Nations has slashed operations in Sudan after three employees were killed and its warehouses were looted in the fighting. It has sought assurances of the safe passage of humanitarian aid.
Although the ceasefire continued, airstrikes rocked the capital on Saturday as the fighting entered its fourth week. Witnesses said warplanes bombed several areas in Khartoum, and telecommunications company MTN said all its services had been disrupted.
Al Jazeera’s Morgan reported: “There has been fighting near the presidential palace … we can hear heavy artillery and airstrikes.”
The military and Reporters Without Borders blamed each other for firing on the Turkish ambassador’s car, but no casualties were reported. Turkey’s foreign minister said Tankara would temporarily move its embassy from Khartoum to Port Sudan for “security reasons”.
‘We’ve got thugs’
UN agencies have warned of a major humanitarian catastrophe if the fighting continues.
On Saturday, the World Health Organization said 30 tons of medical supplies had arrived in Port Sudan by plane, one of the first such supplies since the fighting began.
A group of countries led by Britain, the United States, Germany and Norway will call for a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council on Sudan next week.
The United Nations refugee agency estimates that the number of Sudanese fleeing to neighboring countries will reach 860,000, and aid agencies will need $445 million to help them.
Qatar flew to Sudan on a rescue plane carrying about 40 tons of food and left with 150 evacuees early Saturday as fighting continued.
A Qatari Emiri Air Force C-17 Globemaster landed in Port Sudan, 670 kilometers (415 miles) northeast of Sudan’s violence-torn capital Khartoum. The port city survived the fighting and became one of the few safe transit points in the country, either by air or by boat across the Red Sea to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
The evacuees boarded a C-17 transport plane painted in the livery of the country’s long-haul carrier Qatar Airways. People described the “very dire, horrific” conditions they faced as they tried to leave Khartoum for the airport.
“We still face many difficulties because the security forces are busy fighting and there is a lack of security in the country. We have encountered thugs on the road,” said Nemat Allah Sabul Ibrahim, a Sudanese doctor who lives in Qatar. “But thank God we have reached Port Sudan safely.”