Sudan army suspends participation in Jeddah ceasefire talks

Move raises fears of renewed fighting between the army and the paramilitary group Rapid Support Forces.

Sudan’s army has suspended its participation in talks over a ceasefire and humanitarian access, raising fears of renewed fighting that has displaced hundreds of thousands of people.

The talks with the rival paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) began in the Saudi Arabian port city of Jeddah in early May and produced a declaration of commitments to protecting civilians and two short-term ceasefire deals that have been repeatedly violated.

The army and the RSF had agreed to extend a weeklong ceasefire deal by five days just before it was due to expire late on Monday.

The general command of the armed forces said in a statement on Wednesday that it suspended talks, accusing the other side of a lack of commitment in implementing any terms of the agreement and a continuous violation of the ceasefire.

“The General Command of the Armed Forces has decided to suspend the current talks in Jeddah due to the rebel militia’s lack of commitment to the implementation any of the terms of the agreement and its continuous violation of the ceasefire,” according to the statement posted on Sudan News Agency website.

A spokesman for the army, Brigadier Nabil Abdalla, also told the Associated Press news agency the decision was in response to the RSF’s alleged “repeated violations” of the humanitarian ceasefire, including their continued occupation of hospitals and other civilian infrastructure in the capital, Khartoum.

In a statement, the RSF accused the army of halting the talks in Jeddah so that it could undermine them and of violating the ceasefire by using airpower and heavy artillery to attack its positions.

Later on Wednesday, the African Union (AU) said the suspension of talks should not discourage further attempts at mediation.

“In difficult negotiations, it is a classic phenomenon that one party suspends or threatens to suspend” its participation, Mohamed El Hacen Lebatt, chief of staff to the AU Commission president, and its spokesman for the Sudan crisis, told AFP news agency.

“But that should absolutely not discourage the mediators… the United States and Saudi Arabia, who we support very strongly, from continuing their efforts.”

Until late on Tuesday, intense clashes were reported in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, with residents reporting intensive fighting in all three of the adjoining cities that make up Sudan’s greater capital around the confluence of the Nile – Khartoum, Omdurman and Khartoum North.

Al Jazeera’s Mohamed Vall said while the purpose of the talks in Jeddah was to help civilians “reorganise their lives”, the goal remained elusive.

“We have people still leaving Khartoum. We have people still trapped in their homes because [the] RSF, according to reports, is using civilians as human shields,” he added.

The truce was brokered and remotely monitored by Saudi Arabia and the United States, which say it has been violated by both sides and has allowed for the delivery of aid.

Alan Boswell, project director for the Horn of Africa at Crisis Group, told Al Jazeera the talks had always “failed to gain any traction”.

He said the army was seemingly convinced to join the talks as a tool to “force or convince” the RSF to pull out of several residential areas in Khartoum, but “that wasn’t happening”.

“The concern now is if these Jeddah talks collapse, it confirms more or less that Sudan is basically in freefall into a full civil war,” Boswell said.

“When I talk to diplomats, there is a growing sense of essentially, helplessness, as they feel like they’re watching Sudan collapse, but they are unable to get the two to stop fighting.”

sudan army
Army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan cheers on soldiers as he visits some of their positions in Khartoum [Sudanese Army’s Facebook page via AFP]

The war has forced nearly 1.4 million people to flee their homes, including more than 350,000 who have crossed into neighbouring countries.

More than six weeks into the conflict, the United Nations estimated that more than half the population – 25 million people – require aid and protection.

Areas of the capital have been hit by widespread looting and frequent cuts to power and water supplies. Most hospitals have been put out of service.

The UN, some aid agencies, embassies and parts of Sudan’s central government have moved operations to Port Sudan, in Sudan’s Red Sea state, the main shipping hub which has seen little unrest.

Leaders of the army and the RSF had held the top positions on Sudan’s ruling council since former leader Omar al-Bashir was toppled during a popular uprising in 2019.

They staged a coup in 2021 as they were due to hand leadership of the council to civilians, before falling out over the chain of command and restructuring of the RSF under the planned transition.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies