Ceasefire in Sudan could ‘pave the way’ to peace talks

May 22, 2023
Refugees from Sudan collect relief items distributed by UNICEF and its partners in Kounfroun, Chad. — courtesy UNICEF/Donaig Le Du
Refugees from Sudan collect relief items distributed by UNICEF and its partners in Kounfroun, Chad. — courtesy UNICEF/Donaig Le Du

KHARTOUM — A crucial ceasefire poised to enter into force in restive Sudan on Monday evening should “pave the way” for peace talks to end the month-old conflict, the top UN official in the country has said.

“Lives and infrastructure are being destroyed, and the security situation is impeding the delivery of humanitarian aid,” said Volker Perthes, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Sudan, briefing the Security Council on Monday about recent developments.

Five weeks since the eruption of fighting between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) on April 15, the conflict had shown no signs of slowing down despite repeated declarations of ceasefire by both sides, said Perthes, who also heads the UN mission in the country, UNITAMS.

If honored, the pending week-long renewable ceasefire should ease aid deliveries to millions in need and “pave the way for peace talks”, he told the Council.

However, he raised myriad grave concerns about serious human rights violations, rampant looting, and a flood of weapons throughout the country.

In addition, he said the growing ethnicization of the conflict risks engulfing the country in a prolonged conflict, with implications for the region, calling on both parties to return to dialogue in the interest of Sudan and its people.

Civilians have paid a heavy price for this “senseless violence”, he said, noting the more than 700 reported deaths, including 190 children, another 6,000 injured, and many more missing.

The violence displaced more than one million people; more than 840,000 fled to safer areas while another 250,000 have crossed the borders, and nearly 8,000 of the displaced population are pregnant women.

The fighting throughout the country has resulted in “serious human rights abuses and violations” of international humanitarian law and undermined the protection of civilians.

“These violations must be investigated, and the perpetrators brought to justice,” he said. “The UN family continues to monitor and advocate for an end to all violations.”

In Khartoum, Darfur, and elsewhere, the warring parties continue fighting without regard for the laws and norms of war, he said.

He pointed to destroyed or damaged homes, shops, places of worship, and water and electricity installations, alongside a collapsing health sector, with more than two-thirds of hospitals closed, many healthcare workers killed, and medical supplies running low.

Appalled by reports of sexual violence against women and girls, he said the UN is following up to verify these cases.

He also raised concerns of rampant looting and enforced disappearances, and that children continue to be vulnerable to recruitment and use as soldiers, sexual violence, and abduction.

Criminality is compounded by the release of thousands of prisoners and the increasing spread of small arms, he warned.

In El Geneina in West Darfur, clashes between the parties spiraled into ethnic violence on April 24. Tribal militias joined the fight and civilians took up arms to defend themselves, he said.

Homes, markets, and hospitals were ransacked and burned, and UN premises looted. More than 450 civilians were reportedly killed, and another 700 were injured.

On May 12, renewed violence reportedly led to at least another 280 deaths and tens of thousands displaced to Chad, he said.

Worrying signs of tribal mobilization are also being reported in South Kordofan as well as the Blue Nile region, he warned.

While blame is circulating that the UN did not foresee the conflict, he said the responsibility for the fighting rests with those currently waging it.

“The fighting parties’ decision to fight out their differences on the ground instead of through dialogue is devastating Sudan,” he said.

Commending efforts led by Saudi Arabia and the United States, he said the SAF and RSF signed the Declaration of Commitments in Jeddah on May 11, representing an “important step” that commits to respecting international humanitarian law and allow humanitarian access.

Through a hub in Port Sudan, UNITAMS has supported UN Country Team efforts and humanitarian partners to restore the flow of aid supplies into and within the country, he said.

But, additional funding is urgently needed, he said, noting that the revised humanitarian response plan launched on May 17, requesting $2.6 billion dollars to reach 18 million people, has ballooned from $15 million before the fighting.

“As the talks advance, a diverse array of civil and political stakeholders must play their role,” he said. “Ultimately, only a credible civilian-led transition can chart lasting peace in Sudan.” — UN News

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