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Ceasefires in Sudan: An uneasy trajectory

  Anu Maria Joseph

Ceasefires in Sudan: An uneasy trajectory

The latest ceasefire has frozen the conflict, bringing relative calm. However, impending tensions surrounding the persisting hostilities imply that the ceasefire is uneasy and international and regional efforts are uncertain.

Anu Maria Joseph

On 22 May, a week-long ceasefire between the warring parties, the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and Rapid Support Forces (RSF), began in Sudan. The US and Saudi Arabia have brokered the latest ceasefire. According to a US-Saudi Arabia statement on 21 May, a "ceasefire monitoring mechanism" will enforce the deal. The US State Department stated: "Unlike previous ceasefires, the agreement reached in Jeddah was signed by the parties and will be supported by a US-Saudi and international-supported ceasefire monitoring mechanism."

On 22 May, despite the ceasefire deal, airstrikes and clashes were reported in multiple cities, including Khartoum, Omdurman and Khartoum North. Separated ethnic violence were reported in the Darfur, Blue Nile and White Nile regions. However, according to Khartoum residents' reports to the media, the intensity of the fighting has come down.

On the same day, the United Nations special envoy to Sudan, Volker Perthes, stated: "In parts of the country, fighting between the two armies or the two-armed formations has sharpened into communal tensions, or triggered conflict between communities." He added: "This [the ceasefire] is a welcome development, though the fighting and troop movements have continued even today, despite a commitment of both sides not to pursue military advantage before the ceasefire takes effect." He called on the parties to comply with the ceasefire deal, end the fighting and "allow access for humanitarian relief, protect humanitarian workers and assets."

A seventh ceasefire, impending violence and humanitarian crisis

The latest ceasefire is the seventh one; the earlier week-long ceasefire agreed on 2 May was unsuccessful after both the warring parties failed to comply. Although they agreed to hold talks, the SAF and RSF have continued to fight; both have been accusing each other of violating previously agreed ceasefires. Hours before the ceasefire agreement was meant to be effective, RSF leader Gen Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo released an audio message saying his troops would not retreat "until we end this coup."

The fighting in Khartoum has evolved into Ethnic violences, threatening the troubled West Darfur, Blue Nile and White Nile regions. On 14 May Al Jazeera reported on Arab fighters executing 14 wounded non-Arab civilians in el-Geneina, the capital of West Darfur. The Darfur region has been a hotspot for ethnic violences for two decades. Clashes between Arab and non-Arab communities over land and water resources are decades-long in the region. As the fighting escalates, the army and the RSF has been mobilizing non-Arab and Arab militias respectively to align with them. Besides, the shortage of security apparatus in the ethnic conflict prone zones especially, Darfur has made the regions vulnerable to ethnic clashes. On 9 May, Africanews reported that at least 16 people were killed in a clash between Hausa and Nuba tribes in White Nile region.

According to the UN, more than half of the Sudanese population are in need of humanitarian aid. However, humanitarian assistance is limited as the fighting has disrupted due to insecurity on the roads. According to the UN refugee agency, more than one million people have been displaced since April. Over 843,000 are internally displaced, while over 255,000 are refugees fleeing to neighbouring countries including Chad, Egypt, South Sudan and Ethiopia. The majority of Sudan's neighbours are struggling to cope with the refugee surge. Five of Sudan's seven bordering countries struggle with internal conflicts of their own. With the number of refugees steadily increasing, UN experts have raised a concern that the total number of refugees might exceed one million if conflict continues. The majority of refugees are women and children, who are especially vulnerable to sexual and gender-based violence.

The gap between negotiations and compliance

Both RSF and SAF claim openness to negotiations but show little commitment to compliance. Mistrust between the parties prompts them to seek military advantage during the ceasefire. The RSF has accused the army of breaking the ceasefire by "continuing to attack Khartoum with planes." An army spokesperson told Sky News Arabia that the RSF was responsible for "storming prisons" after reports of gunfire in Port Sudan.

International actors (the UN, the AU, the US, and the EU) have urged the warring parties to negotiate to end the fighting. The African Union (AU) and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) have also urged regional actors to work together to de-escalate the crisis. Previously on 1 May, in an Arab League emergency meeting in Cairo, Egypt had offered a draft resolution calling for an "immediate and comprehensive cessation" of conflict. Until now, efforts by external parties to implement a long-lasting ceasefire have been ineffective.

The Trajectory

The latest ceasefire has frozen the conflict, bringing relative calm. However, impending tensions surrounding the persisting hostilities imply that the ceasefire is uneasy and international and regional efforts are uncertain. Persistent tensions have put the sustainability of the latest ceasefire in question.

Still, a road towards peace talks and a lasting resolution remains elusive. Neither side has much incentive to compromise. Ceasefires in Sudan are fragile. It seems the structural issues within a temporary ceasefire provokes the warring sides to violate the ceasefire, prior to the end of the period, to gain advantage over the other. Although there is a significant external effort to end the fighting, as long as neither RSF nor SAF has the upper hand, a chance for negotiations will not be in sight. The continuing fighting would mean triggering ethnic tensions within and worsening the humanitarian crisis. More the number of failed ceasefires, the harder it will be to reach a long-lasting peace negotiation.


About the author

Anu Maria Joseph is a Research Assistant at NIAS.

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