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Egypt peace bid met with gulf among Sudan factions

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 Drone footage shows birds in the foreground as clouds of black smoke billow over Bahri, also known as Khartoum North, Sudan on May 1, 2023. PHOTO | REUTERS

A peace bid by Egypt to help end the war in Sudan is being met with a widening gulf among warring parties on whether to hold dialogue, or just fight on.

Cairo, endorsed by the African Union, is supposed to help parties meet face-to-face for the first time, to draft agenda on how dialogue should flow.

The African Union Peace and Security Council last week backed Cairo to host the meeting this weekend, after which parties can arrange for talks, possibly under the mediation of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

But even that is creating problems, especially since the Sudan Armed Forces (Saf), the de facto government of Sudan still doesn’t want to be equated to the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which it now describes as terrorist group.

Ahead of the planned meeting, Sudanese military leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan said on Tuesday that the army would not fall for any blackmail through negotiations that rob the prestige and will of the armed forces and “do not meet the aspirations of the people.”

“Our position is clear, which is not to negotiate with an enemy that violates and loots citizens every day, as well as we will not negotiate with those who support this enemy,” Mr Burhan said while addressing the armed forces in the Wadi Sedna military area.

“All Sudanese people stand with the armed forces except for a misguided group. I urge the militias to leave the homes of citizens, this country will not get bigger for us in the future. It is either us or them.”

To him, the Saf has vowed to die in the battle, even though ordinarily his group loves the idea of peace as long as it doesn’t involve being forced to negotiate with what he sees as warmongers.

Diplomatic sources in Sudan told The EastAfrican that both Saf and RSF had actually reached out to President Museveni to seek a face-to-face meeting. But each side has set conditions for such a meeting to occur.

Saf wants to be recognised as the presumptive interim government and RSF should negotiate only as a troublemaker. RSF on its part wants to come to the table as an equal player, not a renegade group, sources indicated.

The Cairo meeting was supposed to precede the “all-inclusive” meeting for July 10 to 15 in Addis Ababa, where Sudan’s warring factions and other political movements are to meet.

Known as Political Dialogue, it is to be led by the African Union High-Level Panel on Sudan, whose chair is Ghanaian lawyer Mohamed Ibn Chambas who is also the African Union High Representative for Silencing the Guns. Other members are former Ugandan Vice-President Specioza Wandira-Kazibwe and Mozambican diplomat Fransisco Madeira.

Theirs is supposed to create “a durable people-driven solution to the conflict and restoration of constitutional democratic order in Sudan for a brighter future,” the AU Peace and Security Council said this week, in a dispatch released after they met last week on Friday.

But the 15-member AU organ also admitted that will depend on the warring factions attending.

The Coordination of Civil Democratic Forces (Taqaddum), a coalition of civilian movements welcomed the invitation of the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Former Sudanese Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdouk, who leaded Taqaddum, is expected in Cairo this weekend.

The conference, organised by the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is to discuss reaching an agreement between the Sudanese civil forces in preparation for the arrangements for stopping the war, discussing the humanitarian track, and the arrangements for the post-war political process.

Taqaddum said they are ready to participate in discussions on “stopping the war, addressing the humanitarian crisis, and ways to prepare for the peaceful path to resolve the crisis.”

“(Taqaddum) will respond to the invitation to participate in the conference to contribute seriously to discussing ways to end the armed conflict and establish sustainable peace in our country.”

Sudan’s peace bids have come as renewed fighting intensified in regions initially thought safer, forcing people to be displaced for a second time in a year.

The Rapid Support Forces, have in the last two weeks, captured key territory in West Kordofan and Sennar State, just after causing the same problem in in El Fasher, the North Darfur capital, from May. They also blocked from access to medical care, food, water, and shelter.

Rights watchdog Avaaz estimated that more than 55,000 people have fled from Sinja in Sennar State, east of Sudan in the last week.

And the Darfur Advocacy Group, a local coalition of responders, said indiscriminate shelling of densely populated residential neighbourhoods was forcing residents to dig trenches inside their homes to protect themselves and their children.”

In the coming week, the number of the displaced from Sennar could reach 130,000, according to charity group Islamic Relief which said the state was already hosting those who fled fighting in other regions such as Khartoum and Al Jazira.

“People are fleeing Sennar in a desperate state of terror. They’ve fled in a hurry with virtually nothing, and many families have no shelter and are sleeping under the open in the heavy rain,” said Mohammad Sorwar, head of programmes for Islamic Relief in Sudan.

“The war is spreading across the country like a cancer. Many of the people fleeing have been displaced two, three, four or even more times before this, but the war keeps spreading. There are very few safe places left for people to run to. If the fighting reaches Gedaref it will have a devastating impact on aid delivery.”

There have been growing UN and international calls to spare Sudan a humanitarian catastrophe that could push millions into starvation and death due to food shortages due to fighting that has spread to 12 of the country’s 18 states.

The United Nations says Sudan, which even before the war was one of the most vulnerable countries in the world, is experiencing “one of the worst displacement crises in the world and is likely to soon experience the world’s worst hunger crisis.”

Of a total population of 48 million, 18 million Sudanese suffer from severe food shortages. At least 16,000 people have died.