Aswan (AP) — Sudan’s warring sides were beginning talks Saturday that aim to firm up a shaky cease-fire after three weeks of fierce fighting that has killed hundreds and pushed the African country to the brink of collapse, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia said.
The negotiations, the first between the Sudanese military and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces since the fighting broke out on April 15, were taking place in Saudi Arabia’s coastal city of Jeddah, according to a joint Saudi-American statement.
The talks are part of a diplomatic initiative proposed by Saudi Arabia and the U.S. that aims to stop the fighting, which has turned Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, and other urban areas into battlefields and pushed hundreds of thousands from their homes.
In their joint statement, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. urged both parties to “actively engage in the talks towards a cease fire and end to the conflict, which will spare the Sudanese people’s suffering.”
The statement did not offer a timeframe for the talks, which come after concerted efforts by Riyadh and other international powers to pressure the warring sides in Sudan to the negotiating table.
Officials from the military and the RSF said the talks would address the opening of humanitarian corridors in Khartoum and the adjacent city of Omdurman, which have been the centers of the battles.
They would also discuss providing protection to civilian infrastructure, including health facilities that have been overwhelmed and suffer from dire shortages in both staff and medical supplies, one military official said.
The RSF official they would also discuss a mechanism to monitor the cease-fire, which is one of a series of truces that failed to stop the fighting.
The pro-democracy movement said the Jeddah talks would be “a first step” to stop the country’s collapse and called on leaders of the military and the RSF to make a “bold decision” to end the conflict.
The movement, which is a coalition of political parties and civil society groups, had negotiated with the military for months to restore the country’s democratic transition after a 2021 military coup led by army chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, who also chairs the ruling sovereign council, and his deputy in the council Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo.
At least 550 people were killed including civilians and more than 4,900 others were wounded as of Monday, according to the Sudanese Health Ministry. The Sudanese Doctors’ Syndicate, which tracks only civilian casualties, said Friday that 473 civilians have been killed in the violence and more than 2,450 have been wounded.
The fighting capped months of tensions between Burhan and Dagalo. It plunged the country into further chaos and forced foreign governments to evacuate their diplomats and thousands of foreign nationals out of Sudan. Hundreds of thousands of Sudanese were displaced inside Sudan or crossed into neighboring countries as the fighting dragged on in urban areas.
The U.N. refugee agency estimated that the number of Sudanese fleeing to neighboring countries would reach 860,000, and that aid agencies would need $445 million to assist them.