KHARTOUM: Sudan’s rival commanders agreed a 24-hour ceasefire from Tuesday evening, after pressure from US Secretary of State Antony Blinken over deadly fighting that has engulfed the capital Khartoum and saw shots fired at a US diplomatic convoy.
The conflict between Sudan’s armed ruling factions broke out four days ago and has killed nearlypeople across the country, triggering what the United Nations has described as a catastrophic humanitarian crisis, including the near collapse of the health system.
The ceasefire will start at 6pm (1600 GMT) and will not extend beyond the agreed 24 hours, Army General Shams Al Deen Kabbashi, a member of Sudan’s ruling military council, said on al Arabiya TV.
Early on Tuesday, gunfire echoed across Khartoum accompanied by the sound of warplanes and explosions. Residents in the neighbouring cities of Omdurman and Bahri reported air strikes that shook buildings and anti-aircraft fire. Fighting also raged in the west of the country, the United Nations said.
Blinken held separate calls with the rival commanders - the army chief and the head of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) - whose power struggle derailed an internationally-backed plan to shift to civilian rule after decades of autocracy and military control.
Blinken, speaking in Japan, said he had telephoned both RSF leader General Mohammad Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti, and General Abdul Fattah Al Burhan, appealing for the 24-hour ceasefire “to allow the Sudanese to be safely reunited with families” and to provide them with relief.
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Blinken said the US convoy was attacked despite the vehicles being marked with diplomatic licence plates and bearing US flags. Initial reports suggest the attack was undertaken by forces associated with the RSF, he said, calling the action “reckless”. Blinken said all US personnel were safe after the incident.
After the call, Hemedti said the RSF approved the ceasefire to ensure the safe passage of civilians and the evacuation of the wounded.
In a post on Twitter, Hemedti said he had “discussed pressing issues” with Blinken and more talks were planned. The RSF also issued a statement saying it was waging a battle to restore “the rights of our people” in what it called a new revolution.
Hemedti’s whereabouts have not been disclosed since fighting began.
A previous shorter ceasefire agreed for Sunday was not fully observed. Artillery volleys, strikes by combat aircraft and street fighting have made it almost impossible to travel in Khartoum, trapping residents and foreigners in their homes.
The main international airport has been under attack, halting commercial flights.
Fighters have attacked aid workers, hospitals and diplomats, including an EU ambassador assaulted in his home. Three workers for the World Food Programme were killed in the fighting on Saturday, and a UN plane was hit in crossfire.
Thousands of volunteers ready
In Geneva, the Red Cross and the World Health Organisation on Tuesday urged Sudan’s warring parties to guarantee humanitarian access for those in need.
“We have thousands of volunteers who are ready, able and trained to perform humanitarian services” in the country, said Farid Aiywar, the Sudan head of delegation for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).
“Unfortunately, due to the current situation, they are not able to move,” he told reporters in Geneva, via video-link from Nairobi.
Aiywar called on all parties to allow humanitarian aid corridors to operate.
UN spokeswoman Alessandra Vellucci said the United Nations had about 800 international staff and 3,200 national staff in Sudan.
“We are of course worried for the security, they cannot operate in a regular way,” she said.
Despite international appeals for an immediate halt to the violence in Sudan, fighting entered a fourth day Tuesday, with the UN counting nearly 200 dead.
Power supply cutoff
Civilians are staying indoors but electricity and water have been cut and food supplies are short.
“We get calls from all sorts of corners, people who want to have basic things, food for their family,” Aiywar said.
“We (are) reuniting children with their parents, and yet you cannot move, you cannot provide them the basic services of providing a bottle of water or meal for a child.
“There is a disruption of the health system and if it continues, it will almost go into a collapse,” he warned.
WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris said many of Khartoum’s nine hospitals that are treating injured civilians are reporting shortages of crucial supplies such as “blood, transfusion equipment, intravenous fluids, medical supplies and other life-saving commodities”.
The WHO also condemned attacks on health infrastructure, with Harris noting three cases had already been documented, “but we know of many more”.
“The parties must ensure that care can be provided and it can’t be if staff and ambulances and supplies cannot be moved around safely.”
The outbreak of fighting followed rising tensions over a plan for the RSF’s integration into the regular military.
Discord over the timetable for that process delayed the signing of the framework deal to launch a civilian transition that was due to be signed earlier this month.
It comes four years after former president Omar Bashir was toppled by popular protests, and nearly two years after a subsequent military coup.