Sunday, June 23, 2024

Sudan: U.S. Top Diplomat Calls for Ceasefire in Sudan As Death Toll Nears 200

Khartoum, Sudan — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has called the leaders of Sudan’s two warring factions and urged them to agree to a ceasefire as the death toll nears 200.

The U.S. State Department issued a statement late Monday saying Blinken had spoken separately with General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, commander of the country’s armed forces, and General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, the head of the Rapid Support Forces. He urged them to end the fighting to permit delivery of humanitarian assistance to those affected by the conflict and allow the reunification of Sudanese families.

The statement said Blinken urged Burhan and Dagalo to allow the international community in Khartoum “to make sure its presence is secure,” and stressed the responsibility of the two generals “to ensure the safety and wellbeing of civilians, diplomatic personnel, and humanitarian workers.”

Secretary Blinken’s call to the two Sudanese rivals was one of many from the international community urging peace in the north African country. A communique issued Tuesday from the G-7 foreign ministers’ meeting in Karuizawa, Japan condemned the fighting, which they said, “threatens the security and safety of Sudanese civilians and undermines efforts to restore Sudan’s democratic transition.”

“We urge the parties to end hostilities immediately without pre-conditions. We call on all actors to renounce violence, return to negotiations, and take active steps to reduce tensions and ensure the safety of all civilians, including diplomatic and humanitarian personnel,” the communique continued.

Both military factions fighting for control in Sudan claimed to have made gains Monday, as the death toll from the violence exceeded 180 amid calls from Washington, multiple international bodies and capitals around the world for an immediate cease-fire.

Residents in Khartoum reported hearing fighter jets and anti-aircraft fire after night fell Monday as the violence between Sudan’s military and a paramilitary force raged through a third day.

Volker Perthes, the United Nations special representative to Sudan, told reporters by video link from Khartoum Monday that at least 185 people had been killed and more than 1,800 wounded since fighting erupted Saturday.

The number of casualties from the fighting is likely to rise, with many of the wounded unable to reach hospitals for treatment. A Sudanese doctors’ group said the fighting had also “heavily damaged” multiple hospitals around the capital.

Large portions of the capital were without electricity and water. The violence also affected Khartoum’s adjoining sister cities of Omdurman and Bahri, with bridges linking the cities blocked by armored vehicles.

U.N. chief Antonio Guterres on Monday again condemned the outbreak of fighting and appealed to the leaders of Sudan’s military and the RSF paramilitary group “to immediately cease hostilities, restore calm and begin a dialogue to resolve the crisis.”

“I urge all those with influence over the situation to use it in the cause of peace,” he said, adding that “the humanitarian situation in Sudan was already precarious and is now catastrophic.”

The two military factions battling for control of Sudan had shared power during a shaky political transition. The clashes are part of a power struggle between General Burhan, who also heads the transitional council, and General Dagalo, also known as Hemedti, the deputy head of the transitional council.

John Kirby, coordinator for strategic communications at the National Security Council, told reporters on Monday that U.S. officials had “been in direct contact” with both generals “to urge them to end the hostilities immediately.” He added that U.S. officials were also working closely with the African Union, the Arab League and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, an East African bloc.

“We call for an immediate cease-fire, without conditions, between the Sudanese armed forces and the Rapid Support Forces,” he said. “As Secretary Blinken mentioned this morning, the fighting is killing civilians and threatens the Sudanese nation as well as stability in the region.”

But when asked by VOA what specific leverage the U.S. has to influence the warring parties, Kirby said, “I’m not going to speak to specific diplomatic leverage.”

He added that all U.S. personnel in the north African nation were accounted for and are sheltering in place. He said there are no plans to evacuate them at this time.

The RSF claimed Monday it had captured an airport and military bases. The military claimed it regained control of the main television station and said it was in control of its headquarters after brief fighting there.

The fighting in Khartoum has forced most people to stay inside. Offices, schools and gas stations are closed.

In the Al-Kalakla neighborhood south of Khartoum, the situation seemed to be relatively calm, as people ventured out to get basic supplies.

Wisal Mohammed, a mother of three, told VOA this is the first time in three days that she’s come out to get food for her children. She said she does not have electricity or water and that she would not be able to travel if there was an emergency.

Al Muiz Hassan, a grocer in the Abu Adam neighborhood south of Khartoum, told VOA he is worried about being robbed and has only partially opened his shop as a precaution.

“The fighting has affected all the shops, not only mine,” he said.

Residents of Khartoum said there has been no police presence on the city’s streets since the military clashes began.

The European Union said its envoy to Sudan was assaulted in his own residence on Monday, but it did not give further details.

Blinken confirmed that a U.S. diplomatic convoy came under fire Monday, adding that initial reports indicated the attack was by forces linked to the Rapid Support Forces.

Calls to end the fighting have come from around the world and within Africa, including the African Union, the Arab League and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).

IGAD said Kenyan President William Ruto, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and Djibouti President Omar Guelleh will go to Khartoum to broker an immediate cease-fire.

“President Salva Kiir has already been in touch with both General Burhan and General Hemedti to convey the message of the summit. … Now, preparations are on the way to undertake this mission,” Nuur Mohamud Sheekh, a spokesperson for IGAD’s executive secretary, told VOA.

Sudan’s two top generals, however, have yet to express a willingness to negotiate and each has demanded the other’s surrender.

Dagalo said Monday on Twitter that he was defending democracy in Sudan and called Burhan a “radical Islamist.” Dagalo’s forces emerged out of the notorious Janjaweed militias in Sudan’s Darfur region and have been accused of carrying out atrocities in the region.

The two generals are former allies who together orchestrated an October 2021 military coup that derailed a transition to civilian rule following the 2019 ouster of longtime leader Omar al-Bashir.

Tensions between the generals have been growing over disagreements about how the RSF should be integrated in the army and who should oversee that process. The restructuring of the military was part of an effort to restore the country to civilian rule and end the political crisis sparked by the 2021 military coup.