The situation in Sudan has become increasingly intricate and multifaceted, despite the temporary ceasefire signed by the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in Jeddah in Saudi Arabia.
While both parties have expressed their willingness to participate in negotiations aimed at renewing the ceasefire, this has not yet led to a permanent cessation of hostilities or an end to the devastating human suffering that has resulted from the ongoing conflict.
It has become apparent that the longer the crisis persists, the more complex and intertwined it becomes, with various local, regional, and international actors intervening and complicating the situation further. The crisis has taken twists and turns, leaving a trail of destruction and human tragedy in its wake.
Despite the calm observed during the ceasefire period, both sides committed numerous breaches from the outset, as confirmed by the joint statement issued by the Saudi and US mediators. The statement highlighted that the parties to the conflict had hindered the arrival of humanitarian aid, used military aircraft and drones, and occupied civilian homes, private companies, and public buildings, among other violations.
It detailed breaches and violations committed by both parties during the seven-day ceasefire, and the US issued a warning to the warring factions regarding possible sanctions. Observers believe that this could escalate into strong pressure exerted by the mediation parties and the sending of stern messages to the parties involved.
Monitoring and sanctions mechanisms will be developed to prevent such breaches from recurring in the future.
However, despite the ceasefire the human tragedy in Sudan has intensified, and civilians remain at risk due to shelling and missile attacks, as well as a lack of access to basic healthcare and essential services.
Reports of looting and assaults on citizens and their property, including car thefts, home occupations, and attacks on places of worship, political party headquarters, infrastructure, and foreign embassies have become increasingly widespread.
The ceasefire period also revealed that both sides are not yet ready for peace, but rather are engaged in rearranging their affairs to continue the war and further escalation. There were mutual mobilisation efforts by both sides and calls for citizens to take up arms, which many in Sudan saw as an attempt to drag the country into a fully-fledged civil war.
Calls for arming citizens have come from multiple sides. Early on, the SAF said that all able-bodied men should prepare to defend themselves. However, it later clarified that the call was limited to retired soldiers, and they should report to the nearest military bases though it is unclear whether the call is mandatory.
Minni Arko Minawi, the governor of the Darfur region, has urged citizens in the area to take up arms to protect themselves and their property from increasing cases of looting and killing by unruly groups, particularly in the light of the fragile security situation.
However, he reaffirmed his neutrality in the conflict and called on the two warring parties to end it and to engage in dialogue leading to a comprehensive political solution.
Despite the calls, many have expressed concerns over the potential danger of arming civilians, with the National Umma Party warning against their being drawn into the conflict. It said that remnants of the former regime were seeking to dismantle the country, expand the war, and fragment the social fabric.
Many Sudanese believe that encouraging people to take up arms will not bring security, particularly given the current fragile conditions and ongoing tribal problems. They fear that arming citizens will only exacerbate the already precarious situation.
In recent days, fighting has erupted in Fasher, the capital of North Darfur State in western Sudan. There are concerns that other civilian groups, including political parties, trade union forces, and resistance committees, are being dragged into the fighting.
The resistance committees consist of Sudanese young people who played a vital role in the revolution that ousted former Sudanese president Omar Al-Bashir. Several members of these committees, as well as humanitarian workers and doctors, have been arrested.
The tribal factor has also entered into the crisis, with some tribal leaders declaring their support for either the SAF or the RSF. This could further ignite conflicts between tribal components across the country. Bitter divisions have already begun to escalate in Sudan based on tribal and regional affiliations, and these could expand the scope of the war and have serious consequences for the country.
The conflict in Sudan has not been limited to the warring parties, as international and regional actors have also been accused of supporting one side or the other. Such accusations have raised fears of an expansion of the war into the wider region.
Brian Nelson, US undersecretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, has alleged that the Russian Wagner Group has provided the RSF with surface-to-air missiles to fight against the Sudanese Army.
According to a source in the SAF, intelligence services in the Red Sea region in eastern Sudan have seized weapons and ammunition being smuggled into the country from a foreign country and intended for the rebels, in other words the RSF.
Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan, chair of the Sudanese Sovereignty Council and commander-in-chief of the SAF, has called on UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to end the mission of Special Envoy to Sudan Volker Peretz.
Al-Burhan has accused Peretz of bias and has suggested that his actions have contributed to the rebellion and military confrontations in Sudan. He has also suggested that Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, aka Hemedti, the commander of the RSF, had received reassuring signs and encouragement from other parties, including the special envoy.
Guterres expressed his shock at Al-Burhan’s statements and reiterated his full confidence in Peretz. Washington has also expressed concerns about Al-Burhan’s call for Peretz’s replacement and confirmed its support for him.
The African Union (AU) has initiated mediation moves in efforts to find a resolution to the conflict in Sudan. However, there are concerns on the part of the warring factions regarding its motives.
There are other factors that support ending the war in Sudan and reaching a solution through dialogue. The vast majority of the Sudanese people want to end the conflict and stop the bloodshed.
The people of Sudan have suffered from long decades of Civil War in South Sudan, Darfur, South Kordofan, the Blue Nile, and other areas, with high costs paid in terms of human life, unity, and peace. They desire a democratic transformation in the country and the building of a unified national army.
Another important factor supporting efforts to end the conflict in Sudan is the realisation of neighbouring countries and friends of Sudan of the catastrophic consequences of a further escalation of the situation. The potential for the conflict to spill over into the wider region, exacerbating existing tensions and conflicts, is a serious concern for many.
The damage that would be inflicted on many international interests in this vital region of the world is another cause for concern.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 1 June, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly