A man pushes a cart down a street in Khartoum on June 9, 2023, amid ongoing fighting. Image Credit: AFP

KHARTOUM: Sudan’s warring generals have agreed to a 24-hour ceasefire from Saturday, US and Saudi mediators said, acknowledging that previous attempts to pause a conflict now nearing its third month had proved abortive.

“Representatives of the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) agreed to a 24-hour countrywide ceasefire beginning on June 10 at 6:00 am (0400 GMT),” said a joint statement from the mediators released by the Saudi foreign ministry on Friday.

Multiple ceasefires have been agreed and broken, and Washington slapped sanctions on both the warring generals after the last attempt collapsed at the end of May, blaming them for the “appalling” bloodshed.

“Should the parties fail to observe the 24-hour ceasefire, facilitators will be compelled to consider adjourning” talks in the Saudi city of Jeddah which have been suspended since late last month, the mediators said.

Since April, fighting between the regular army and the paramilitary RSF has gripped Khartoum and the flashpoint western region of Darfur, defying a series of truces.

Upwards of 1,800 people have been killed, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, and the UN says nearly two million people have been displaced, including 476,000 who have sought refuge in neighbouring countries.

The Saudi and US mediators said they “share the frustration of the Sudanese people about the uneven implementation of previous ceasefires”.

“If observed, the 24-hour ceasefire will provide an important opportunity... for the parties to undertake confidence-building measures which could permit resumption of the Jeddah talks,” the statement said.

Friday’s announcement comes a day after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrapped up a three-day visit to Saudi Arabia, where he held discussions on Sudan with top Saudi officials.

UN envoy barred

It also comes a day after Sudanese authorities loyal to the regular army declared UN envoy Volker Perthes “persona non grata”, accusing him of taking sides.

The fighting has sidelined the envoy’s efforts to revive Sudan’s transition to civilian rule which was derailed by a 2021 coup by the two generals before they fell out.

It has also complicated the coordination of international efforts to deliver emergency relief to the 25 million civilians that the United Nations estimates are in need.

“The government of the Republic of Sudan has notified the secretary-general of the United Nations that it has declared Mr. Volker Perthes... persona non grata as of today,” the foreign ministry said in a statement late Thursday.

UN chief Antonio Guterres has repeatedly defended Perthes.

In a letter to the United Nations last month, Burhan accused its envoy of bias, not respecting “national sovereignty” and exacerbating fighting between the regular army and the RSF.

A Sudanese government official who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity said the decision was taken “because he sided with certain political parties and stressed that the political process be restricted to certain parties and exclude others”.

The United Nations has yet to comment on the announcement but UN chief Antonio Guterres has repeatedly defended Perthes, who is currently in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa for a series of talks.

Perthes and the UN mission he heads have been targeted since late last year by military and Islamist-backed protests denouncing perceived foreign interference.

A former academic who has headed the Sudan mission since 2021, Perthes has staunchly defended the UN against accusations of inflaming the conflict, saying those responsible are “the two generals at war”

Sudan specialist Aly Verjee said that in expelling Perthes, Burhan was following in the footsteps of his ousted predecessor Omar Al Bashir who expelled then envoy Jan Pronk in 2006.

“Like then, the focus on Perthes is ultimately a distraction from the bigger picture,” said Verjee, a researcher at Sweden’s University of Gothenburg.

“Trying to save Perthes’s job won’t help resolve the much bigger issues that Sudan now faces, not least to dampen the ongoing hostilities.”

Witnesses reported hearing clashes on Friday near the Yarmouk weapons manufacturing and arms depot complex in Khartoum, from where plumes of smoke were seen rising for a second successive day.

Air strikes were also carried out in eastern parts of the capital and the sound of anti-aircraft guns was heard.

Those unable to leave have been forced to camp out for weeks as supplies of food and other vital goods run low.

Entire districts of Khartoum no longer have running water, mains electricity is only available for a few hours a week and three-quarters of the hospitals in combat zones are not functioning.