Sudan’s two warring generals sent their envoys to Saudi Arabia on Friday for talks aimed at firming up a shaky ceasefire after three weeks of fierce fighting that has killed hundreds and pushed the African country to the brink of collapse.
The negotiations would be the first between Sudan’s military, led by General Abdel-Fattah Burhan, and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, commanded by General Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, since clashes broke out on April 15.
According to Sudanese officials the talks will begin in the Saudi coastal city of Jeddah on Saturday, following concerted efforts by Riyadh and other international powers to pressure the warring sides in Sudan to the negotiating table.
The officials spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss the upcoming peace talks. No timeframe was given for the length of the talks.
Foreign governments have rushed to evacuate their diplomats and thousands of foreign nationals out of Sudan. Saudi warships have been ferrying those fleeing from Port Sudan, on Sudan’s Red Sea coast, which has now become the entry hub for aid sent to the embattled nation.
A series of fragile and often violated ceasefires over the past three weeks has failed to stop the fighting. Fierce battles raged Friday in areas around the military’s headquarters and the international airport in Khartoum, according to residents.
According to the 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 are part of an initiative proposed by Saudi Arabia and the United State. He said they would also discuss providing protection to civilian infrastructure, including health facilities.
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.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, meanwhile, discussed the initiative in a phone call with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan, the Saudi Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
It said the initiative aims to “prepare the ground” for dialogue to de-escalate tensions in the African country. The statement did not provide further details.
The battle for control of Sudan, which capped months of tensions between Burhan and Dagalo, has so far killed at least 550 people, including civilians, and wounded more than 4,900, according to the Sudanese Health Ministry.
The Sudanese Doctors’ Syndicate, which tracks only civilian casualties, said on Friday that 473 civilians have been killed in the violence, and more than 2,450 have been wounded.
Their power struggle has put millions of Sudanese in the line of gun battles, artillery bombardments and airstrikes.
James Elder, a spokesman for Unicef, said at least 190 children have been killed and 1,700 wounded in the fighting.
“This means that every single hour, you have seven boys or girls … killed or injured,” he said at a press conference on Friday in Geneva. “I think this is underlining the enormity of how violent this is.”
So far, at least 334,000 people have been displaced inside Sudan, and tens of thousands more have crossed to neighbouring countries — Egypt, Chad, South Sudan, the Central African Republic and Ethiopia, according to UN agencies.