Fragile ceasefire in Sudan

Asmaa Al-Husseini , Tuesday 30 May 2023

A temporary ceasefire to the conflict in Sudan came into effect this week, with hopes running high that it will mark the start of permanent peace agreement.

Fragile ceasefire in Sudan
Bin Farhan (c) flanked by representatives of the Sudanese army and the rival paramilitary RSF, after renewing the ceasefire this week (photo: AFP)


A seven-day ceasefire signed by the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in Jeddah entered into force on 22 May and is the second such measure concluded in the joint Saudi-US mediating effort to end the conflict in Sudan.

Now entering its seventh week, the conflict has so far claimed 863 dead and more than 3,000 wounded, and displaced 1,100,000 persons, according to official figures.

The Sudanese are praying that the current ceasefire will mark the beginning of a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire agreement and the prelude to dialogue aimed at resolving Sudan’s profound and multifaceted crisis.

However, many fear that fighting will break out again due to the signatories’ failure to abide by their commitments or their divergent interpretations of the agreement.

Some suspect that they are merely using the agreement to buy time in order to regroup preparatory to another round of fighting that could be even fiercer than the last. Given such concerns, the SAF and the RSF will be under close international scrutiny while the agreement itself will be put to the test for its ability to safeguard civilian lives.

It will also be tested for the credibility of its mediators and the stringency with which they call to account any party who violates its provisions.

Much will depend on the efficacy of the monitoring process in tracking any breaches and violations and in ensuring safe corridors for the passage of civilians and humanitarian aid. This means that the mediators, regional parties, and other members of the international community must make it clear to the combatants that there will be no tolerance of any failure to live up to their commitments under the agreement.

Sudanese political forces along with regional and international stakeholders welcomed the ceasefire and urged the SAF and RSF to respect it in the interest of protecting civilian lives, facilitating the safe arrival of humanitarian relief, and enabling the resumption of essential public services.

They praised the provision calling for the creation of a nine-member monitoring committee made up of three representatives from each of the mediating body, the SAF, and the RSF. The monitoring will take place though satellite observation and other instruments.

Observers also expressed relief at the provision calling for a halt to all strikes and bombardments by warplanes, heavy artillery, and drones and for the evacuation of hospitals and other public buildings.

Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan hailed the agreement as a “glimmer of hope,” while US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that “it is past time to silence the guns.” Officials in Cairo voiced their hopes that the agreement will lead to a comprehensive and lasting ceasefire.

Sudanese politicians stressed the need for an effective monitoring mechanism, warning of possible breaches in remarks to Al-Ahram Weekly. In a statement, the Sudanese Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) called on all parties to fully adhere to the principles of the Jeddah Agreement and reaffirmed their commitment “to participate positively in efforts to halt the war, alleviate the suffering of the people and end this tragedy.”

“There can be no victory in this destructive war,” Kamal Ismail, head of the Sudanese National Alliance Party, told the Weekly.

“The Sudanese people are paying the price for mistakes that are no fault of their own,” he said, warning that the war was having disastrous repercussions that could affect life in Sudan for years to come. He said that the actual death toll is much higher than the official figures, which only report bodies that have been taken to hospitals and morgues.

He called for a monitoring mechanism “on Sudan’s Arab and African soil” that will be strong enough to keep the combatant forces disengaged. He also stressed the need for a “neutral, acceptable, and recognised mechanism for distributing humanitarian relief without interference from any party.”

Secretary-General of the steering committee of the Sudanese Bar Association Al-Tayeb Al-Abbassi stressed that a regional or international monitoring mechanism charged with protecting civilian lives must be allowed to operate in keeping with international law.

“This is a human and legal right enshrined in international conventions,” he told the Weekly. “Any mechanism must actively monitor the situation and ensure that any violators of a truce or ceasefire are condemned and brought to account.”

“A firm, powerful and strict mechanism is needed, and the UN should be part of the process of stopping the war and ensuring respect for the truce and promoting support for the monitoring mechanism,” he said.

Sudanese analyst Taher Mutassem said the current ceasefire was the second phase of the Jeddah track, the first being the humanitarian ceasefire agreed over a month ago. The executive mechanism was the joint monitoring committee made up of representatives from the SAF, the RSF and the US and Saudi Arabia.

Speaking to the Weekly he said that “both sides are exhausted after over a month of continuous fighting. Monitoring by satellite will make a difference, and the monitoring mechanism will put them both to the test.”

As negotiations in Jeddah were underway, the RSF and SAF continued efforts to rally support both domestically and abroad. RSF leader Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (Hemedti) sent his political adviser, Youssef Ezzat, to South Sudan to meet President Salva Kiir, and then to Kampala to meet Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

SAF Commander General Abdel-Fattah Al-Burhan was infuriated at Juba’s reception of Ezzat, and the Sudanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs lodged a complaint with the South Sudanese government for receiving him and lending a platform to the rebel forces.

Al-Burhan sent an envoy to the Arab Summit in Jeddah and to neighbouring Arab countries to convey the message that he represents the legitimate government in Sudan. In his capacity as President of the Transitional Sovereign Council (TSC) and Commander of the Sudanese Armed Forces Al-Burhan officially dismissed Dagalo as TSC vice-president.

The action, taken more than five weeks after the conflict erupted, “came very late,” said Mutassem. “Hemedti was using his position as TSC vice-president as leverage to support his political and diplomatic movements.”

He said that Al-Burhan’s appointments of the leader of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement North faction (SPLM-N) Malik Agar to replace Hemedti, of Shams Al-Din Kabashi as deputy commander in chief of the army, and of Yasser Al-Atta and Ibrahim Jaber as assistants to the commander-in-chief, were intended to “set his house order” and preempt the outcome of the third stage of the Jeddah Process.

Khaled Omar Youssef, spokesman for the political process and a leader in the FFC, told the Weekly that any action that does not promote a political solution and end the war will only prolong the crisis.

“The focus needs to be on stopping the war and promoting a peaceful solution, because the longer the war lasts, the deeper the crisis will grow and the greater the chances that it will develop regional and tribal projections,” he said.

“The wise thing to do is to stop the war and resolve disputes through peaceful solutions and security and military reforms aimed at building a unified professional national army, preserving the unity of Sudan, and establishing a civilian government based on the peaceful rotation of authority.”

The country’s civilian forces “must be a part of any forthcoming negotiations on a political solution after the hostilities end,” Youssef concluded.

A version of this article appears in print in the 25 May, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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