GP Short Notes

GP Short Notes # 746, 21 September 2023

Sudan: Intense Fighting between the warring sides
Jerry Franklin

In the news
On 19 September, the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) reported that more than 1,200 children have died in Sudanese refugee camps from suspected measles and starvation. Additionally, the agency stated that every month in Sudan, more than 50,000 children need to be treated for malnutrition.

On 18 September, for the first time since the war began in April, fighting in Sudan reached the city of Port Sudan, where the Sudanese army battled with tribal militias, the Forces of the Eastern Sudan Parties and Movements Alliance. 

On 17 September, clashes between the Sudanese army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) resulted in the burning of the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company (GNPOC) tower in Khartoum.

On 14 September, the commander of Rapid Support Forces (RSF), General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, threatened to install a government in regions under their control if his adversaries in the army established a government in Port Sudan.

On 13 September, the UN's special envoy to Sudan, Volker Perthes, stated that he would resign after being declared unwelcome by the military administration in the conflict-torn region.

Issues at large
First, increased fighting in terms of intensity and geography. Heavy artillery and airstrikes were reported in Khartoum as the army and the RSF continued to fight for control of Khartoum. The armed fighting between the warring sides has intensified. The buildings of GNPOC, the Ministry of Justice, and the Sudanese Standards and Metrology Organization (SMO) in the Al Mugran neighbourhood were destroyed by fire during the recent violence in Khartoum. The Sudanese army engaged in combat with tribal militants devoted to the Beja tribe's leader, Sheba Darar in Port Sudan. This was the first violence in the city of Port Sudan in more than five months of conflict. Government representatives and representatives of the United Nations, who have evacuated from the country's war-torn capital Khartoum, are accommodated in Port Sudan, which is the only city with an operational airport. 

Second, the search for legitimacy by the RSF and SAF. The commander of the SAF, Al-Burhan, recently set up a base in Port Sudan, after departing the General Command of the Armed Forces' headquarters in Khartoum. Many federal government entities have now moved their operations to Port Sudan. The army and supporting political groups, reportedly intend to set up an interim administration with Port Sudan as its capital. In retaliation, RSF leader Daglo has threatened to proclaim a new government with Khartoum as its capital. Besides, SAF leader al-Burhan had carried out regional visits to South Sudan, Qatar, and Eritrea, calling for political and humanitarian support. Meanwhile, RSF’s special envoy, Yousif Izzat, met with the African Union chairperson, Moussa Faki Mahamat, to discuss RSF’s vision to end the conflict. RSF firmly opposes the Sudanese Army’s effort to represent Sudan on the international front and claim legitimacy. 

Third, failed efforts to reach a long-term truce. Many international actors, including the US, Saudi Arabia and the Arab League, have attempted to establish a ceasefire in the region to de-escalate the conflict; however, they failed to sustain it. Since the commencement of the conflict, both parties have routinely breached several ceasefires led by the US and Saudi Arabia. In August, the RSF's leader Dagalo made a 10-point plan calling for new negotiations to end the conflict. However, the Sudanese army rejected the proposal, declaring that they would not negotiate a deal with traitors, and denying appeals for a ceasefire. 

Fourth, the continued cycle of violence. According to estimates from the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), nearly 5,000 people have died due to the violence. According to UN statistics, more than 4.6 million people have been compelled to evacuate their homes in the four months of conflict. Food supplies are exhausted, and humanitarian workers are unable to reach the needy due to conflicts and roadblocks.

In perspective
First, the fight for legitimacy. The army attempts to portray that the fight is between the state and a rebel group rather than between two sections of the security forces. The US has imposed sanctions on RSF deputy leader Abdelrahim Hamdan Dagalo’s assets in the US and had his visa suspended for the human rights violations committed during the fighting. The SAF has been using the US sanctions on the RSF to turn international opinion against the RSF and hence to seek legitimacy.
Second, the possibility of civil war. The recent violence in Port Sudan poses a threat of violence expanding to other parts of Sudan which could worsen the humanitarian crisis and lead to a prolonged power struggle. The constant efforts to establish regional, national, and international legitimacy by both the warring sides may result in a full-fledged civil war shortly. The humanitarian crisis would exacerbate as the conflict worsens, and there is less hope for the long-awaited democratic transition.

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