Sudan's Al Burhan claims he will hold free elections in meeting with Egypt's El Sisi

Sudanese leader holds talks with Egyptian President as war with paramilitary group RSF rages on

Gen Al Burhan visits Egypt for first foreign trip since start of Sudan conflict

Gen Al Burhan visits Egypt for first foreign trip since start of Sudan conflict
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Sudan's army chief General Abdel Fattah Al Burhan has claimed he will hold free elections in the vast Afro-Arab nation after months of conflict that have torn the country apart and displaced millions.

Speaking on a visit to Egypt – the first time he has left Sudan since fighting erupted between his army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces in April – he also claimed he had no interest in clinging on to power.

“We in the army are committed to starting a genuine transitional period, after which the Sudanese people can establish their state through free and fair elections in which they choose who rules them,” he said.

Claims by the RSF that the military was allied with remnants of the regime of ousted dictator Omar Al Bashir were being spread to deceive the Sudanese people, he said.

The military “has no wish to seize power or continue to rule Sudan”, he added.

Gen Al Burhan's army and fighters, led by his one-time deputy and ally, RSF commander Gen Mohamed Dagalo, have been locked in a ruinous war since mid-April.

Regional peace effort

Gen Al Burhan's comments on Tuesday followed talks in Egypt with President Abdel Fattah El Sisi, whose government has supported the Sudanese military leader since he first rose to power following Al Bashir's 2019 ousting.

Gen Al Burhan and Gen Dagalo jointly seized power in a 2021 coup that deposed a civilian-led government, derailed Sudan's democratic transition and plunged the nation into a political and security crisis.

Mr El Sisi received Gen Al Burhan, who wore a blue business suit, on his arrival at New Alamein, a resort city on the Mediterranean coast and the summer seat of Cairo's government. Discussions took place in the city's seafront presidential palace.

A presidential statement did not divulge details of the discussions, saying only the Egyptian leader had assured Gen Al Burhan of Egypt's “constant and solid support of Sudan, its security, unity and territorial integrity during the delicate circumstances it is going through”.

Egypt views Sudan as the strategic depth of its national security sphere, always concerned that chaos or foreign meddling there could affect its own stability.

Besides sharing the middle and northern reaches of the Nile – a lifeline to both nations – there is a community of about five million Sudanese who have for decades made Egypt home. About 300,000 Sudanese have already fled the fighting in their country and found refuge in Egypt.

The two nations also share close cultural, social and economic ties. Under Gen Al Burhan's rule, Egypt and Sudan have forged close military ties, including the conclusion of a military co-operation agreement.

In contrast, Cairo has kept Gen Dagalo, better known by his nickname Hemedti, at arm's length.

Egypt has not openly sided with Gen Al Burhan in his war against the RSF and last month it convened a summit of Sudan's neighbours in an attempt to find a diplomatic end to the conflict.

However, Egypt has long held the view that state institutions, particularly the military, must be protected to ensure the territorial integrity and cohesion of their respective nations.

Guard of honour

Gen Al Burhan's visit to Egypt gives him significant legitimacy. He was given a red-carpet reception at New Alamein Airport, featuring a guard of honour.

Gen Dagalo, on the other hand, is not a graduate of Sudan's military academy and owes his rank to the patronage of Al Bashir. He is a former leader of the Darfur-based Janjaweed militia, which fought on the government's side in the western region's civil war in the 2000s.

The group was accused of committing war crimes in that conflict.

The RSF was legitimised under Al Bashir as a branch of the armed forces, although Gen Dagalo has maintained the near-total independence of the paramilitary, building it up since 2019 into a well-equipped and well-armed force of about 100,000 fighters backed by a vast economic empire.

However, persistent reports of war crimes committed during the continuing conflict by the RSF and its allies in Khartoum and Darfur have significantly dented his narrative of a force fighting for democracy against generals clinging on to power and the remnants of Al Bashir's regime.

The International Criminal Court said it was investigating RSF actions in Darfur since the fighting began. The RSF has long maintained that Gen Al Burhan was trapped in a section of the armed forces' headquarters still under the control of loyal army troops and vowed to kill him if he tried to escape.

But Gen Al Burhan made a surprise appearance last Thursday in Omdurman, one of the three cities that comprise the greater area of the Sudanese capital.

He later travelled by helicopter to the army-held airbase of Wad Seidna, about 20km away, and subsequently flew to Atbara, a city north of Khartoum. There, he greeted troops stationed at an artillery base before he flew to Port Sudan, a city on the Red Sea where the Sudanese government now sits.

The news about Gen Al Burhan's trips coincided with a dire warning from the UN that the fighting in Sudan threatens to swallow up the whole country.

“The war in Sudan is fuelling a humanitarian emergency of epic proportions,” said Martin Griffiths, UN undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief co-ordinator.

“This viral conflict – and the hunger, disease and displacement left in its wake – now threatens to consume the entire country.”

UN figures indicate more than 4.6 million people have been forced to flee their homes due to the fighting. Of these, more than a million have fled to neighbouring countries.

Millions more are trapped in Khartoum, enduring power and water cuts, scarce healthcare service and skyrocketing food prices.

On Tuesday, fighting between the army and the RSF in the South Darfur city of Nyala killed at least 39 civilians when artillery shells hit their homes, witnesses and a medical source cited by AFP said.

“The entire members of five families were killed in a single day,” said Gouja Ahmed, a human-rights activist originally from Nyala. Images posted online showed dozens of bodies on the ground covered in shrouds, as well as men placing the dead in a large grave.

More than 50,000 people have fled Nyala due to the violence since August 11, the UN has estimated.

Updated: August 30, 2023, 8:32 AM