Aid agencies and UK government to discuss need for Sudan resolution in Jeddah talks

British government says peace talks are 'best bet' to end the conflict after Paris conference pledges $2.1bn in aid

Refugees from Darfur in Sudan, sit on a vehicle before being taken to a camp on April 23, 2024, in Adre, Chad. Getty Images
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The UK has been urged to step up its diplomatic pressure on warring factions in Sudan, as the government claims it has assurances that peace talks will get under way in Jeddah in May.

Over 10 million people have been displaced in Sudan as the war between two military generals and their factions entered its second year. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation found that 20.3 million faced acute food insecurity in 2023, making Sudan the country with the largest number of food shortages for that year.

The UK sanctioned three businesses with ties to the warring Sudanese army and the Rapid Support Forces, a paramilitary group, and doubled its funding to Sudan to £89 million at an international pledging conference in Paris last week, which raised $2.1 billion.

The pledged aid would reach one third of the critical need within Sudan, notwithstanding the millions displaced to neighbouring countries, according to Unicef’s estimates.

On Tuesday, agency representatives told MPs that concerted diplomatic efforts were needed to bring about an end to the war and give humanitarian agencies access to Sudan.

With a new round of peace talks expected in Jeddah, they urged Britain to use its position in the UN and leverage on regional actors to help Sudan. “That effort needs to be all hands on deck,” said Mary Louise Eagleton, deputy representative for Unicef in Sudan.

“The UK is a key actor in [Jeddah] and in the Security Council, for the humanitarian corridors that are urgent and critical, and for getting both parties to stop the war,” she said at a hearing with the International Development Committee.

She called for “more effective” sanctions against people rather than companies and groups. “That's where the needle can be pushed a little further,” she said.

Sibongani Kayola, country director for Mercy Corps, said Britain must ensure that “any peace processes that are brokered are inclusive of Sudanese civilian voices and civil society”.

Agencies had struggled to secure access to Darfur, where the risk of malnutrition and famine is at the highest, through the Chad border. The road from West to East Sudan, controlled by the warring groups, had also been blocked in recent months.

“Despite assurances from the authorities, from the parties to the conflict, we continue to see impediments to the delivery of life-saving assistance,” said Ms Kayola. These included “arbitrary” denial of access and visas pending with “no justification”.

The conflict had affected food and agricultural production, and treatment plants had come under attack or run out of chlorine. A “significant increase” in abandoned babies who were born out of sexual violence had been recorded, while infant and maternal mortality rates were also on the rise, according to Unicef.

An end to the fighting was needed to prevent a spillover into neighbouring countries – namely South Sudan and Chad. “Regional destabilisation is months to come,” said Ms Kayola. “There is a denial of the fact that what we are seeing in Sudan is not just about Sudan, it affects the entire region from the Red Sea to the Sahel.”

The third round of Saudi-led peace talks between the Sudanese army and the RSF were announced in Paris and will include the UAE, Egypt, the African Union and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development. Andrew Mitchell, the deputy Foreign Secretary, told MPs on Monday that the UK was giving “strong support” to the Jeddah process, assuring them that it was “the best bet at the moment for progress”/

The UK was also working to support Taqqadom, a coalition of civilian-led groups headed by former prime minister Abdalla Hamdok, Mr Mitchell added. Darfur’s Centre for Information Resilience, which investigates attacks on civilians and is monitoring the conflict, has also received UK funding.

Discussions to extend an arms embargo on Darfur to the rest of Sudan had taken place “at the margins of the UN” and the Paris conference last week, Mr Mitchell added, but were being blocked by Russia and China at the Security Council. “We need to ensure that arms do not fuel the conflict, and that is why Britain urges everyone to ensure there is no further arming of either party,” he said.

The UK’s ambassador to Sudan, based in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, as working “with all relevant parties” of the conflict.

Foreign Office officials were reported to have held secret talks with the RSF despite US accusations that the paramilitary force had committed crimes against humanity involving massacres of civilians and sexual violence.

The revelation has been described by rights groups as a “slap in the face”, but Ms Eagleton of Unicef defended this decision. “It's not possible to reach communities and to get aid without speaking to all parties,” she said at the committee hearing.

Updated: April 24, 2024, 3:04 PM