Warring Parties in Sudan to Hold Talks in Saudi Arabia
WASHINGTON — Representatives of two warring Sudanese generals are expected to meet in Saudi Arabia on Saturday to discuss terms of a cease-fire and mechanisms for allowing humanitarian aid into the country, U.S., Saudi and Sudanese officials said on Friday.
The U.S. State Department and the Saudi foreign ministry have helped organize the meeting, which would take place in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on the Red Sea across from Sudan. The Saudi government has been running evacuation ships between Jeddah and Port Sudan.
The two generals have agreed to cease-fires in recent days, but their troops have violated those.
The Sudanese army confirmed in a post on Facebook that its delegation left for Jeddah on Friday evening to discuss “specific details of the armistice,” which is aimed at “securing and creating appropriate conditions for dealing with the humanitarian situation of our citizens.”
A senior State Department official said the discussions in Jeddah would not include negotiations over the volatile issues around integration of the armed forces and chain of command that led to the start of fighting on April 15 between Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who controls the Sudanese military, and Lt. Gen. Mohamed Hamdan, who leads the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces.
African officials are expected to manage those talks whenever they start, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the delicate diplomacy. Two African institutions, the African Union and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development in Eastern Africa, would take leading roles in that process.
Since the conflict began, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and other State Department officials have been talking directly to the generals and trying to coordinate efforts with a partnership of countries with influence in Sudan called the Quad. Those are the United States, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Britain.
The State Department said on Friday that Mr. Blinken had spoken with Prince Faisal bin Farhan, the Saudi foreign minister, about the fighting in Sudan. Mr. Blinken thanked Saudi Arabia for helping get U.S. citizens from Sudan to Jeddah, and the two diplomats “affirmed their countries’ intensive collaboration on diplomatic work to bring about an end to the fighting in Sudan,” the State Department said in a summary of the call.
The fighting in Sudan has left at least 550 people dead and more than 334,000 people internally displaced, according to Sudanese government statistics and the United Nations. The actual number of the dead is almost certainly much higher.
Sudanese civilians and officials have been working with the United States and other foreign powers to try to get the nation to move from military rule to a civilian-run government, with democratic elections, ever since mass protests in 2019 led to the ouster of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, the dictator of 30 years.
However, in October 2021, General al-Burhan and General Hamdan carried out a coup, subverting a transition process. Officials from the United States and other countries were working on a new agreement with the generals to get the process back on track, and diplomats thought weeks ago that the generals were ready to embrace the pact, but then they began arguing over how to integrate their forces, including over a timeline.
The chain of command was an issue, too: General Hamdan wanted to report directly to a civilian leader, while General al-Burhan wanted General Hamdan to report to him.
One of the last plans discussed before fighting broke out was a proposal that both generals maintain operational control of their own forces, and sit on an integration committee with a new civilian head of state, the State Department official said.
If the generals agree to allow a secure way for aid to enter Sudan, most or all of the immediate aid would come by ship to Port Sudan and then be taken overland to Khartoum, the capital, and other places. The United States would work with the United Nations on this process, the State Department official said.
Critics say the Biden administration should have tried to punish the two generals after the 2021 coup rather than working closely with them. U.S. officials say they and partners withheld economic aid and debt relief from the Sudanese government, and believed that would push the generals to support a transition to civilian rule and democracy.
Edward Wong reported from Washington, and Abdi Latif Dahir from Nairobi, Kenya.
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