Assessing Ceasefire Failures, Regional Initiatives and Humanitarian Concerns in Sudan: A Status Update

The three-day ceasefire truce brokered by the US and Saudi Arabia came to an end on June 21, 2023. The truce was initially calm and successfully implemented during the first two days. However, on the third day, the situation became extremely fragile as fierce confrontations, airstrikes, and artillery bombardment led to numerous civilian casualties and injuries in residential areas. There was also extensive destruction of government institutions, including attacks on the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) artillery, General Security, and service headquarters. Brutal confrontations have also occurred in some parts of Bahri and Ommdorman.

Wednesday, June 21, 2023, was considered one of the most violent days since the outbreak of the war. It has been observed that conflicts often resume at the end of truces, resulting in significant human and economic costs for the civilian population. Citizens are increasingly getting concerned whenever ceasefire announcements are made, as the conflict tends to escalate dangerously towards the end of truces. During our discussions with a random sample of citizens in Khartoum regarding the military clashes and truces, many respondents mentioned that these ceasefire truces are typically announced when the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) have made progress in ground battles. The citizens expressed disappointment and frustration with ceasefire truces, as they are frequently followed by more aggressive confrontations and military escalation, resulting in significant harm to civilians. Worse off, the facilitators in Jeddah have been unable to enforce a permanent ceasefire truce with robust ground monitoring and investigation mechanisms in place. This has further contributed to the ongoing cycle of violence and instability in the region.

A New Typology of War in Darfur

The conflict in the Darfur Region has been escalating, with notable implications for security in the fragile region. Since 2003, there has been a significant amount of ethnic and intertribal conflict in the region. However, the recent conflict in Khartoum has introduced a new typology of war, where national military and political conflicts strongly impact local conflicts. The rapidly changing nature of war has also forced many local people to flee their homes, resulting in a massive influx of refugees. For instance, the recent conflict in West Darfur has led to nearly the entire population of Elgenena fleeing to Chad.

The arrest and killing of General Khamees Abaker, the Governor of West Darfur, marks an unprecedented development since the outbreak of the Darfur conflict in 2003. The participation of a significant number of foreign fighters from neighboring countries, alongside the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), has complicated the situation and prolonged the crisis. The regional impact of Sudan’s war is evident, as Chad and France have closed the Sudanese-Chadian borders to prevent the movement of fighters and logistics across the borders. This decision came after multiple videos and reports showcased the involvement of Chadian armed movement leaders fighting alongside the RSF in Khartoum, resulting in some of them being killed or arrested.

Political negotiations

Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD)

Several regional and international initiatives have been undertaken to address the conflict in Sudan and seek a political resolution. Recently, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) concluded a summit and released a communique outlining the steps to move forward and resolve the crisis. One of the proposed measures is the establishment of a mechanism consisting of three presidents, with the Kenyan president chairing instead of the South Sudanese counterpart. Additionally, Ethiopia’s membership in the mechanism was expanded.

However, the Sudanese delegation expressed several concerns regarding the communique. They particularly objected to the Kenyan president’s chairmanship, the inclusion of Ethiopia, and any indication of moving the negotiations away from Africa. They also opposed the deployment of African or international forces for the protection of civilians, citing concerns about national sovereignty. Afterwards, Sudan officially submitted a note rejecting Kenya’s chairmanship, arguing that Kenya had not demonstrated neutrality and fairness. IGAD has not yet responded to Sudan’s objection.

In a separate development, the Kenyan president invited foreign affairs ministers from the four countries involved in the conflict to a meeting aimed at discussing the implementation of the communique. Sudan issued an official statement condemning this move. Meanwhile, the Ethiopian president proposed a joint meeting between the two generals in Addis Ababa within ten days. The Rapid Support Forces (RSF) agreed to the proposal, while the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) has not yet responded. Taking into account the aforementioned events, there are significant structural and political challenges impeding the effectiveness of IGAD’s initiative. These challenges have hindered IGAD’s ability to make a meaningful contribution to the peaceful resolution of the conflict in Sudan.

African Union (AU)

The African Union (AU) has made little progress in addressing the conflict in Sudan since its last meeting of the Expanded Mechanism. The AU lacks a clear roadmap, vision, and mechanisms to effectively resolve the conflict. Moreover, the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) has shown limited interest in the AU’s efforts due to Sudan’s suspension from AU membership. Sudan was not consulted in the convening of the last expanded meeting, and it is believed that some high-ranking AU executives are politically aligned with the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), potentially undermining Sudan’s positions in regional and international forums.

Of significant concern is the AU’s lack of a concrete proposal for ending the conflict through African-led efforts and actors. Sudan has threatened to withdraw its membership from the AU if it is not included in decisions pertaining to its own country. To strengthen its role and influence in resolving the issue, the AU needs to adopt more consultative approaches and engage both parties impartially, facilitating fair and open discussions. This approach, particularly in dealing with the SAF, would bolster the AU’s effectiveness and contribute to a solution.

The Failure of the Jeddah Forum

In our survey, we asked selected citizens and experts about their perceptions of the Jeddah forum. The majority of interviewees expressed displeasure with the process and lacked optimism regarding its ability to achieve positive outcomes for Sudan in the near future. One of the main concerns was the forum’s failure to establish a permanent ceasefire, which is crucial for facilitating the delivery of humanitarian assistance and initiating meaningful discussions on a lasting political solution.

In a recent development, on June 22, 2023, the SAF rejected a request by the United States and Saudi Arabia mediators for a four-day ceasefire that was scheduled to commence the following day. SAF stated in an official statement that the RSF had not adhered to previous truces, using them instead for logistical support and redeployment of forces to new locations. SAF argued that RSF had not withdrawn its forces from civilian utilities, including hospitals and essential service institutions such as water, electricity, and communication networks as outlined in the Jeddah framework agreement. SAF also accused RSF of launching multiple military attacks on its premises at the end of each ceasefire truce. RSF expressed regret over SAF’s refusal and expressed willingness to engage in a ceasefire truce to alleviate civilian suffering and create an opportunity for a permanent ceasefire.

After almost two months of facilitation, our preliminary survey indicates that many Sudanese citizens are disappointed with the Jeddah Forum. They are dissatisfied with the forum’s inability to secure robust ceasefire truces, facilitate humanitarian access to areas such as Khartoum and Darfur, prevent the conflict from spreading to previously safe areas in Darfur, Kordofan, and Khartoum, and deploy ground monitors to investigate ceasefire violations. Participants also highlighted that the facilitators lack a clear vision or roadmap to end the conflict, relying on tactical truces and short-term actions that often exacerbate insecurity in conflict zones.

Following SAF’s rejection of a new ceasefire truce, the United States and Saudi Arabia issued a statement announcing the postponement of negotiations until further notice due to the parties’ lack of commitment and willingness. With no alternative forum in place and amid a wider misunderstanding between SAF, IGAD, and the AU, military confrontations are expected to persist for the time being.

Unconfirmed Developments and Key Recommendations

There are several uncertain developments regarding the conflict in Sudan. First, there are ongoing consultations among various national, regional, and international bodies to establish an exile government based in one of the countries in the region. Second, there are unconfirmed reports of collaboration between the RSF and a neighboring country to launch a major military operation against the SAF in East Sudan, specifically targeting the strategic coastal town of Port Sudan. South Sudan has also closed its borders with Sudan citing security reasons.

In light of these developments, there are some recommendations to consider. First, it is recommended to rescue the Jeddah Forum by revitalizing and expanding its scope to include influential regional bodies such as Chad, UAE, LAS, Egypt, IGAD, and the AU. This broader participation can enhance the forum’s effectiveness and bring in more diverse perspectives. Second, it is crucial to bridge trust gaps between Sudan and IGAD, particularly with Kenya and Ethiopia. The forum should shift from a facilitation approach to a mediation approach, offering a clear proposal for a peaceful solution rather than short-term, fragile truces. Lastly, urgent action is needed to address the extreme humanitarian situation. The government, donors, and UN agencies should increase their capacity and adopt new approaches to alleviate the suffering of the affected population.

Dr. Mahmoud Zainelabdeen Mahmoud is the Secretary General at African Centre for Governance, Peace &Transition in Khartoum, Sudan

Photo: A man walks while smoke rises above buildings after aerial bombardment, during clashes between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the army in Khartoum North, Sudan, May 1, 2023 (Photo Credit: Reuters/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah)

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