Gunfire heard despite ceasefire extension.
Gunfire heard despite ceasefire extension.
Warring generals in Sudan have agreed to extend by five days a humanitarian ceasefire they repeatedly violated and which failed to deliver promised aid corridors. Residents told AFP they could hear gunfire after dark on Monday 29th May, shortly before the ceasefire extension was announced.
Earlier, they reported street battles in northern Khartoum, as well as artillery fire in the south of the city, where a plume of grey smoke was visible. A day earlier, mediators from the United States and Saudi Arabia had said there were “violations by both parties that significantly impeded” the truce’s goals of allowing humanitarian aid for civilians, delivered through secure corridors, and the restoration of essential services.
They added that both the army headed by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and its enemy, the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) led by Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, were “posturing for further escalation”. But shortly before the initial one-week ceasefire was to expire at 1945 GMT, Washington and Riyadh announced the extension.
“While imperfectly observed, the May 20, 2023 ceasefire enabled delivery of humanitarian assistance”, they said in a joint statement. “The extension will permit further humanitarian efforts.” Since the truce began a week ago, frightened residents have ventured out to try and get food or water, the costs of which they say have doubled since the start of the war.
In a “breakthrough”, the World Food Programme said Monday that it had begun reaching thousands of Khartoum’s trapped residents. Many families have continued to shelter in place, rationing water and electricity while trying desperately to avoid stray gunfire in the city of more than five million people — nearly 700,000 of whom have fled, according to the United Nations.
In Darfur, on Sudan’s western border with Chad, continued fighting “blatantly disregards ceasefire commitments”, according to Toby Harward, of the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR. “Intermittent fighting between Sudanese armed forces and Rapid Support Forces in El Fasher, North Darfur over the last few days” has seen civilians killed, homes looted and tens of thousands newly displaced in the already war-ravaged region, Harward said.
The persistent fighting has impeded the delivery of the aid and protection needed by a record 25 million people, more than half the population, according to the UN. Despite the increasing needs, it says it has only received 13 per cent of the $2.6 billion it requires. A week ago, representatives of Burhan and Daglo signed a written agreement to pause the incessant air strikes, artillery fire and street battles to let the aid flow.
But by the seventh day of the truce relief supplies had only trickled in, including to replenish the few hospitals that are still functioning in the capital. For the first time in Khartoum since the war began, though, WFP on Saturday started giving out food assistance to families “struggling to make it through each day as a food and basic supplies dwindle,” said WFP’s country director Eddie Rowe.
WFP had been increasing operations in most of the country’s states since early May and wants to do more in Khartoum, “but that depends on the parties to the conflict and the security and access they realistically guarantee on the ground”, Rowe said. With potentially 2.5 million more people falling into hunger if fighting continues, the UN on Monday said Sudan has become one of the highest alert areas for food insecurity, requiring “urgent” action from the international community.
Sudan’s already fragile health sector faces compounded challenges, with three-quarters of hospitals in combat zones out of service, according to the doctors’ union. In East Darfur state, more than 30 infants have died in a single hospital since fighting began, the World Health Organization said. Since April 15, the war has killed at least 1,800 people, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project. More than a million others are displaced within Sudan and nearly 350,000 have fled to other countries, the UN said.
Sudan’s neighbouring states — many already mired in instability — fear regional spillover from the conflict. Even with the truce extended an additional threat remained, after the UN warned of “growing reports” of unexploded ordnance in the capital and other densely populated areas. There were also fears that calls, including from Darfur’s pro-army governor, for civilians to arm themselves will only worsen the six-week war.
The Umma party, one of Sudan’s main civilian groups, cautioned against such calls as “attempts to drag the country into civil war”. A similar worry came from Yassir Arman, a leader in the Forces of Freedom and Change, the pro-democracy movement sidelined in a 2021 coup led by Burhan and Daglo. Arman on Monday accused officials from the former regime of military-Islamist strongman Omar al-Bashir of intending to “prolong the war, dragging civilians and tribes towards it”.
© Agence France-Presse