Sudan’s rival forces hold peace talks amid shaky cease-fires

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(NEW YORK) — Sounds of fighting and artillery shooting could be heard in several parts of Sudan on Monday as talks between warring sides were underway in Saudi Arabia amid hopes it will to bring a short-term ceasefire.

Witnesses reported renewed clashes in east and central Khartoum and in the adjoining cities of Bahari and Omdurman. Airstrikes hit parts of Khartoum as dark smoke rose in the sky, residents said.

Negotiations between the Sudanese army and the rival paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) group began on Saturday in Saudi Arabia’s coastal city of Jeddah, on the Red Sea, as part of a U.S.-Saudi initiative aimed to bring a hiatus to the three-week conflict which killed hundreds and sparked an influx of refugees.

The preliminary talks will “continue over the following days in the hope of reaching an effective and temporary cease-fire so that humanitarian aid can be delivered to those in need,” the Saudi foreign ministry said in a statement on Monday.

The two sides have agreed to multiple truces since the fighting started, but none has effectively taken hold, with both parties blaming each other for violating them.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan discussed the developments of the negotiations in Jeddah in a phone call on Monday, the Saudi foreign ministry said separately. It has not commented on the progress of the talks.

The conflict in Sudan erupted on April 15 between the army, led by General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan and the RSF, commanded by his former ally General Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, known as Hemedti, as the two factions grapple for power.

The two warring generals were allied in a 2021 coup and the prior toppling of Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir and later shared power as part of transition towards civilian rule, but fell out over plans to integrate the RSF into the army.

“Battles are renewing and increasing every day and every minute. There were scary clashes in the morning and we woke up to find RSF forces having their bases around our residential block,” Heba Mahmoud, a resident of Bahri, told ABC News.

Residents in several parts of Bahri have been struggling to access basic needs and food commodities, with a complete water outage since the fighting began, she said.

At least 500 people have been killed and more than 5,000 others wounded since the conflict started, according to the health minister.

In West Darfour, where a flare-up of tribal violence erupted, at least 100 people were killed in the capital city of Geneina over the past two weeks, the Doctors’ Syndicate said on Sunday. Hospitals in the city continue to be out of service, the group added.

Saudi Arabia and the U.S. urged the two warring parties to engage seriously in the talks to move forward towards “setting a timetable for expanded negotiations to reach a permanent cessation of hostilities, the Saudi foreign ministry said.

An army envoy had said they would only discuss details of a humanitarian truce. RSF leader Hemedti said he hoped the talks would “achieve their intended goals.”

The conflict in Sudan has trapped millions of civilians in their homes, destroyed or shut down hospitals and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. It also forced foreign governments to evacuate their diplomats and thousands of private citizens out of Sudan.

Saudi Arabia will provide $100 million worth of humanitarian aid to Sudan, the foreign ministry said.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan held talks with Saudi Prime Minister and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to discuss issues in the region on Sunday. He expressed gratitude for the “support Saudi Arabia has provided to U.S. citizens during the evacuation from Sudan,” the White House said in a statement.

More than 100,000 people have fled Sudan to neighbouring countries in search of safety and over 334,000 people have been displaced inside the country, the UN says.

On Sunday, the Arab League issued a resolution stressing the need for “full respect of Sudan’s sovereignty” and preventing any external interference which would “fan the conflict and threaten regional peace and security”.

The resolution also sets up a ministerial commission of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the pan-Arab bloc’s secretary general to work towards ending the conflict, reaching a “complete, sustainable ceasefire” and facilitating humanitarian assistance.

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