The US on Tuesday urged Sudan’s warring parties to enact a permanent, nationwide ceasefire and return to the process of transitioning to civilian rule, as relations with neighbouring South Sudan become increasingly strained.
During the monthly briefing on the situation in Abyei, a disputed area along the Sudan-South Sudan border, US Deputy Ambassador Robert Wood said Washington stood “in solidarity with the people of Sudan in their unshakable commitment to democracy”.
He added that the US “urgently” calls on the warring parties to enact and uphold a ceasefire and commit to returning “immediately to the process of resuming Sudan’s transition to civilian rule”.
Progress towards civilian rule following decades of military dictatorship was derailed following an army-led coup in October 2021.
Further scuppering hopes for a transition to democracy, tension between the Sudanese military and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces erupted into violence in mid-April.
The conflict has had widespread regional consequences, as Sudanese refugees pour into neighbouring countries. It has also increased tension with South Sudan.
The Abyei region, home to several oilfields, has been a source of contention between the two countries since South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011. UN peacekeepers were sent to the area that same year, as the two sides vowed to work towards a permanent border agreement.
Mr Wood condemned the continued fighting in Khartoum, saying it was not only compromising the safety of civilians but also UN personnel deployed in Abyei.
“It is disappointing to learn that hostilities in Khartoum have further jeopardised the safety and security of Unisfa [UN Interim Security Force for Abyei] personnel, as well as impeded Unisfa’s ability to carry out its mandated tasks, including protecting civilians, assisting humanitarian efforts, and supporting a peaceful settlement of the final status of Abyei and its border issues,” said Mr Wood.
He said Washington was also “deeply alarmed” by the presence of Sudanese and South Sudanese forces and police in Abyei, stressing that the area should remain demilitarised aside from UN troops.
Hanna Tetteh, UN special envoy for the Horn of Africa, expressed concerns over the current conflict's impact on South Sudan, “with the potential for more than 200,000 South Sudanese refugees hosted by Sudan returning if we do not see stability returning soon”.
“This would be a challenge to a country where two thirds of the population already require humanitarian assistance,” she told Security Council members.
Gabon’s UN ambassador, Michel Xavier Biang, speaking on behalf of the council's three African members, called on Sudan’s neighbouring countries to “mobilise” to enable the repatriation of international personnel as well as the hosting of refugees.
“We stand staunchly convinced that the current crisis in Sudan cannot be resolved by military means alone,” he said.
The UN estimates that five million additional people will need emergency assistance inside Sudan, while 860,000 are expected to flee to neighbouring states that were already in crisis at a time when rich countries have cut back on aid.
The World Health Organisation on Tuesday raised the confirmed death toll in Sudan to more than 600, with 5,000 injured.
According to UN spokesman Farhan Haq, the world body's humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths had proposed the warring parties back a “Declaration of Commitments” to guarantee the safe passage of humanitarian relief.
“Mr Griffiths is encouraged that this declaration has also been consulted upon in the Jeddah talks,” Mr Haq told reporters in New York, referring to peace negotiations currently taking place in Saudi Arabia.
“He hopes the declaration can be endorsed as soon as possible so that the relief operation can scale up swiftly and safely to meet the needs of millions of people in Sudan.”