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Sudan warring parties agree to seven-day truce, South Sudan says

UN says it would welcome a lasting truce, but will have to see whether it is accepted by Sudan's opposing sides
Smoke billows over residential buildings in Khartoum as deadly clashes between rival generals' forces have entered their third week, on 1 May 2023(AFP)

The Sudanese Army and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces in Sudan agreed to a seven-day truce starting 4 May in a phone conversation with South Sudan's President Salva Kiir, the foreign ministry in Juba said on Tuesday.

Sudan's army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his erstwhile-ally, Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, also known as Hemeti and who commands the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), "have agreed in principle for a seven-day truce from May 4th to 11th", the ministry said in a statement.

According to South Sudan, the two sides also said they would send representatives for peace talks “to be held at an agreed venue of their choice”.

Neither the Sudanese army nor RSF have officially commented on the report and previous announcements of a ceasefire failed to stop the fighting.

The UN, which has been pushing for a ceasefire, welcomed the news but struck a cautious tone.

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“We would certainly welcome any lasting meaningful truce. First, of course, we will have to see whether this is accepted by all the parties and whether it is implemented by the forces on the ground,” Farhan Haq, deputy spokesman for the UN secretary general, said at a briefing on Tuesday.

The US said it remained in close contact with Sudan’s military and civilian leaders and has been pushing vocally for a truce. White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said on Tuesday that humanitarian agencies must be given access to help people in Sudan despite the supposed truce.

If the truce does hold, it would mark a much-needed reprieve from two weeks of bloody fighting that has left hundreds of people killed and thousands wounded.

Hundreds of thousands flee

MEE reported last week that Sudanese caught between the country's warring factions were struggling to find affordable food and vital supplies as prices soared, shops were looted and key infrastructure was destroyed.

The fighting has already caused more than 330,000 people to flee their homes within the country, and over 100,000 to escape across borders to neighbouring states like Egypt, Chad and South Sudan, the United Nations said on Tuesday.

The truce announcement comes as the UN prepared to brace for a new surge in displaced people at a time when its 2023 budget for the African country faced a $1.5bn budget shortfall. The UN estimated that more than 800,000 people could flee Sudan.

The conflict between Sudan's army and the RSF broke out two weeks ago over disagreements to integrate the paramilitaries into the armed forces. Although in its early stages, the fighting showed signs of taking on the hallmarks of a proxy war, with foreign powers backing opposing sides.

On Sunday, Sudan's former prime minister, Abdalla Hamdok, warned that the conflict could deteriorate into a full-blown civil war.

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Egypt appeared to be backing Burhan and his Sudanese Armed Forces. Meanwhile, Hemeti had drawn support from the UAE, where he spent two weeks in February meeting with senior Emirati leaders including the country’s vice president, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

Analysts previously told MEE that while foreign actors may have empowered Burhan and Hemeti, the fighting appeared to have taken them by surprise, particularly as it comes amid a push to de-escalate regional tensions.

“The Gulf states look at Sudan and just want this thing settled,” Ken Katzman, a senior advisor at the Soufan Group, previously told MEE . “They feel they can deal with whoever comes out on top, but what they don’t need is escalation.”

Saudi Arabia, in particular, seemed eager to position itself as a mediator to the conflict, a departure from other regional hotspots like Yemen where it waded head first into the fighting.

Two sources with knowledge of the matter told MEE that the Saudis were working with US backing to bring Burhan and Hemeti together for talks in Riyadh in the coming weeks. The efforts were first reported by Sky News Arabic.

But the truce announcement from South Sudan shows the interest Khartoum’s African neighbours have taken in de-escalating a conflict along their borders amid concerns about spillover effects.

South Sudan's President Kiir spoke to Burhan and Hemeti as part of an initiative by the East African regional bloc Igad (Inter-Governmental Authority on Development), which has been pushing for an end to the fighting.

On Tuesday, the bloc said in a statement that it was “particularly happy” to see that Burhan and Hemeti were “persuaded that dialogue is the best and only option to address grievances and not war”.

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