Saudi Arabia and US lead diplomatic push for Sudan talks

Envoys for warring generals reportedly heading to Jeddah as White House sends its national security adviser to Saudi Arabia

Smoke billows over Khartoum during fighting between the Sudanese military and the Rapid Support Forces.  AFP
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A major diplomatic push to build on a much-violated ceasefire in Sudan gathered momentum in Saudi Arabia on Friday, as Khartoum's two warring generals reportedly sent envoys for talks in Jeddah.

The development came as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan on an initiative to “prepare the ground” for dialogue to de-escalate tension in Sudan, the Saudi Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Mr Blinken expressed US “gratitude for Saudi Arabia’s invaluable assistance in enabling the safe arrival in Jeddah of US citizens and their family members departing Sudan”, the State Department said.

“The Secretary and the Foreign Minister affirmed their countries’ intensive collaboration on diplomatic work to bring about an end to the fighting in Sudan,” the department added.

White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said earlier on Friday that he was travelling to Saudi Arabia this weekend.

The Associated Press reported that Sudan’s two warring generals sent their envoys on Friday to Saudi Arabia for talks after three weeks of fierce fighting that has killed hundreds and pushed the African country to the brink of collapse.

Citing three Sudanese officials — two senior military officials and one from their paramilitary rival — AP said the talks would start on Saturday in Jeddah.

The negotiations would be the first between Sudan’s military, led by Gen Abdel Fattah Burhan, and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, commanded by Gen Mohamed Dagalo, since clashes broke out on April 15.

According to the three officials, the talks in Jeddah would address the opening of humanitarian corridors in Khartoum and the adjacent city of Omdurman, which have been the centres of the battles.

One of the military officials said the talks were part of an initiative proposed by Saudi Arabia and the US. He said they would also discuss providing protection to civilian infrastructure, including health facilities.

The RSF official said Saudi and American officials would facilitate the talks. He said they would also discuss a mechanism to monitor the ceasefire and confirmed on Friday that the RSF delegation had left for Jeddah.

Sudan's military also later said its delegation had departed to Saudi Arabia, saying the talks would discuss “details of the truce”, without elaborating.

The Saudi Press Agency reported that the talks in Jeddah aim “aim to prepare the necessary ground for dialogue to reduce the level of tensions … to ensure the security and stability of Sudan and its brotherly people”.

On Thursday, US Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines said Sudan's rival forces are reluctant to hold peace talks because both sides believe they can win on the battlefield.

Ceasefires have been broken as the warring paramilitary RSF the Sudanese army appear to be fighting for control of territory in the capital Khartoum.

“Both sides believe they can win militarily and have few incentives to come to the negotiating table,” Ms Haines told the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington.

While fighting continues, US President Joe Biden issued an executive order on Thursday authorising sanctions against Sudan. He called the violence a tragedy and a betrayal of the Sudanese people.

The sudden collapse into warfare has killed hundreds, triggered a humanitarian disaster and sent thousands of refugees to neighbouring states, further destabilising the region.

The US State Department said it has concluded the evacuation of about 1,300 American citizens from Sudan, helping more than 2,000 people in total to leave the country.

The UN has warned of the war's devastating impact, particularly on children.

“The situation in Sudan is teetering towards catastrophe, and children are increasingly caught in the crossfire,” said Catherine Russell, executive director of the UN children's agency.

“For the sake of Sudan’s children, the violence must stop.”

Sudan said on Tuesday that 550 people had died and 4,926 have been wounded.

Updated: May 05, 2023, 11:31 PM