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Sudan crisis: Air strikes pound Khartoum ahead of first talks in Saudi Arabia

Sudanese army and paramilitary RSF confirm sending envoys to Jeddah for US-Saudi sponsored talks
Smoke billows during fighting in the Sudanese capital Khartoum, on 3 May 2023 (AFP)

Air strikes pounded Sudan's capital, Khartoum, on Saturday, as fighting entered a fourth week only hours before the warring parties were to meet in Saudi Arabia for their first direct talks.

The US-Saudi initiative is the first serious attempt to end the fighting between Sudan's army, led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, and his erstwhile-ally, Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, also known as Hemeti, who commands the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

At least 550 people have been killed and thousands wounded in the conflict, with hundreds of thousands fleeing either internally or to neighbouring countries, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project.

The army confirmed it had sent envoys to Saudi Arabia to discuss "details of the truce in the process of being extended" with the paramilitary forces.

Hemeti also confirmed his group's attendance, saying he hoped the talks would achieve their intended aim of securing safe passage for civilians.

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The general, whose RSF descended from the Janjaweed militia accused of war crimes Sudan's Darfur region, affirmed "the need to reach a civilian transitional government that... achieves the aspirations of our people".

Both sides have, however, made it clear they would only discuss a humanitarian truce, not negotiate an end to the war.

The fighting has seen warplanes bomb targets in Khartoum and the rival forces engage in intense street battles in the city of five million inhabitants. 

On Saturday morning, sounds of explosions shook Khartoum as warplanes pummelled various parts of the capital and the warring sides intermittently exchanged heavy fire. Telecommunications company MTN said all of its services had been interrupted in Khartoum.

In a joint statement, the United States and Saudi Arabia earlier said the army and RSF would hold direct discussions in Jeddah on Saturday, describing them as "pre-negotiation talks".

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"Saudi Arabia and the United States urge both parties to take into consideration the interests of the Sudanese nation and its people and actively engage in the talks toward a ceasefire and [an] end to the conflict," they said.

The fighting, which started on 15 April and has turned parts of Khartoum and other urban areas into war zones, has shown little signs of abating, with numerous ceasefires violated.

It has thwarted an internationally backed plan to transition the country to civilian rule following years of unrest and uprisings.

Most of the fatalities so far in the conflict have been in Khartoum and the western Darfur region, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, while an estimated 100,000 people have fled abroad.

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