Sudan truce talks must resume to ease humanitarian crisis, EU envoy says

Influx of weapons from countries including Iran threatens prospects of permanent peace, Annette Weber tells The National

Children share food as Sudanese families host internally displaced people amid the civil war in the country. AFP
Powered by automated translation

A resumption of Sudan peace talks is needed urgently to ensure at least localised ceasefires and humanitarian access as concern grows that supplies of weapons from other countries could extend conflict, the EU's envoy to the Horn of Africa told The National.

Fighting between the Sudanese army and the Rapid Support Forces paramilitary has endured for more than a year despite several rounds of peace talks brokered by Saudi Arabia and the US and hosted in Jeddah. Several ceasefire agreements have been reached but were either never honoured or collapsed soon after taking effect.

"There should definitely be a resumption of Jeddah. We need Jeddah to start, we need the two sides to really come together and get at least into localised ceasefires and humanitarian access," Annette Weber said during a visit to Abu Dhabi on Monday.

She said this was "the bare minimum" of what was needed to ease what she referred to as world's biggest humanitarian crisis.

The Jeddah talks, which began weeks after the fighting broke out on April 15, have focused on establishing ceasefires, enabling the delivery of humanitarian assistance and confidence-building measures towards a permanent cessation of hostilities.

The Sudanese army last week rejected a call by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to return to the negotiating table.

The army and the RSF worked together to oust long-time Sudanese leader Omar Al Bashir in 2019, and again in 2021 to topple the civilian-led transitional government that replaced him. But army chief Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan and RSF commander Gen Mohamed Dagalo fell out over a new plan for the country's transition to democracy.

In a new peace bid, Egypt has said it will host peace talks between rival Sudanese political forces in the coming weeks, with regional and international actors expected to attend.

"We have one message and the message is stop the war. Let's get to talks. So let's get into the grievances and the questions and the preconditions, the conditions and into a pragmatic agenda implementation," Ms Weber said.

The most important issue for now is to discuss "what's necessary for the protection of civilians, what is necessary for humanitarian access", she said.

The initiatives must focus on "how do they [warring parties] look at separation of troops, the really technical but also pragmatic issues that are necessary to really stop a war", she said.

A humanitarian crisis of catastrophic proportions is unfolding in the country, where at least 18 million people are facing acute hunger and famine is rapidly approaching. The conflict has led to more than eight million people being displaced and many more trapped between the warring sides.

Nearly 15,000 people have been killed since the fighting erupted last April, the UN said.

"The situation in the country is the worst humanitarian catastrophe worldwide. This is why we must have the Jeddah talks again," Ms Weber said.

The EU envoy stressed there is a need for agreements from both sides on humanitarian corridors that guarantee the safety of humanitarian groups.

"Sudan is one of the worst places for humanitarians to work right now. And so there is no guarantee, there is no protection that would be necessary. And of course, that is part of why Jeddah needs to start," she said.

Foreign weapons supply

Sudan's strategic location on the Red Sea has made it the site of competition for influence among regional and international players. According to several media reports, Iran has supplied the Sudanese army with armed drones that have helped it to make gains and halt the progress of the RSF.

Reuters reported Tehran supplied several Mohajer-6 mid-range reconnaissance and combat drones to the Sudanese army from December 2023 to January this year.

“We are clearly concerned about all weapons that are coming into Sudan, including the Iranian. We have made it clear from the beginning that any involvement or support for any side in terms of military support is not helping the war," she said.

"The aim we have is to stop the war, not to continue the war,” Ms Weber said.

She also spoke about Russia's involvement in Sudan.

Gen Al Burhan's deputy, Malik Agar, visited Russia for talks on Monday, days after the Sudanese army said it may get weapons in exchange for letting the Kremlin establish a military fuelling station on its coast.

"We know, of course, now that they signed an agreement with Russia, it also shows this war is not any more just regionalising, it's internationalising," she warned.

Ms Weber said that once international interests enter a conflict, it makes it "almost impossible for the two sides to close the chapter and move on to the next".

Updated: June 05, 2024, 10:27 AM