The warring parties in Sudan could not agree to a cease-fire, but signed a commitment to allow deliveries of humanitarian aid and to restore some services for residents battered by nearly four weeks of intense fighting, two senior U.S. administration officials said on Thursday.
The deal, brokered by diplomats from the United States and Saudi Arabia after six days of talks in Jeddah, fell short of the negotiators’ original goal of reaching a truce. It was cast instead as a “declaration of commitment to protect the civilians of Sudan.” The goals of the pact include delivering humanitarian aid, restoring essential services, withdrawing fighters from hospitals and clinics and allowing residents to safely bury the dead.
The northeastern African nation of Sudan, with a population of 48 million people, has been ripped apart since conflict broke out on April 15 between the forces of two rival generals, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who controls the Sudanese military, and Lt. Gen. Mohamed Hamdan, who leads the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces.
The violence has tipped Sudan into a full-blown humanitarian crisis, leaving millions of people with no water, food, electricity or health care. Aid organizations have reported that their warehouses have been looted and their workers killed, pushing many groups to suspend operations.
At least 600 people have been killed and more than 5,000 others injured in the conflict, according to the Sudanese Ministry of Health; the true death toll is likely higher. More than 700,000 people have been internally displaced, and over 160,000 have fled to neighboring countries, many of which are already hosting large refugee populations and facing dire economic straits.
One U.S. State Department official, who requested anonymity in order to discuss sensitive negotiations, said talks are expected to begin as soon as Friday on a cease-fire to implement the “declaration of commitment” that the Americans announced on Thursday. The official said the goal is to build on such early steps toward a permanent cessation of hostilities and an eventual restoration of Sudan’s civilian government — an aspiration that has eluded Sudan as the two now-warring generals refused to share or turn over power to civilians.
The official said the title of the agreement was requested by the warring parties to show their commitment to protecting civilians, even as they wreak carnage across Sudan.
Several cease-fires have been agreed to by both sides already. None of those were respected, although some did lessen fighting for a time, allowing foreigners and almost one million Sudanese civilians to flee.
After the first shots rang out in the capital, Khartoum, fighting rapidly spread across the country, with particularly intense violence in the western Darfur region and, last week, in the town of El-Obeid in south-central Sudan.
In cities like Khartoum, the fighting has taken place in heavily populated areas, with both sides deploying machine guns, bazookas, rockets and, in the case of the army, warplanes. Officers with the paramilitary forces have taken defensive positions in neighborhoods and hospitals, according to residents, with the army retaliating by shelling them.
The United Nations’ top human rights body held an emergency session in Geneva on Thursday to draw attention to killings, injuries and other abuses of civilians. The head of that body, Volker Turk, accused both sides of violating humanitarian law.
As the fighting has intensified, hospitals, laboratories and medical workers, who are already operating in dire conditions and with no supplies, have increasingly come under attack.
Both sides have repeatedly agreed to, and broken, cease-fires negotiated by foreign officials. These included a 72-hour truce brokered by the United States in late April and a weeklong cease-fire announced by South Sudan this month.
Abdi Latif Dahir contributed reporting from Nairobi.