Battle-weary Sudanese hope upcoming truce finally holds

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Air raids, gunfire and explosions rocked Sudan’s capital on Sunday ahead of a one-week ceasefire agreed by rival generals, the latest in a series of truces that have been systematically violated.

The ceasefire is focused on enabling humanitarian assistance to civilians. It is to take effect at 9:45 pm (1945 GMT) on Monday, the United States and Saudi Arabia said in a joint statement late Saturday after talks in the Saudi city of Jeddah.

In a deserted neighbourhood of Khartoum North, Hussein Mohammed hopes that, finally, the guns will silence.

The United Nations says fighting has driven nearly 650,000 Khartoum residents from their homes, but Mohammed has remained, sheltering in place with his sick mother.

“We hope that this time mediators can monitor that the ceasefire is implemented,” he told AFP.

A joint US-Saudi statement acknowledged the multiple truce violations since fighting began on April 15 and said this time is different.

“The agreement reached in Jeddah was signed by the parties and will be supported by a US-Saudi and international-supported ceasefire monitoring mechanism,” the statement said.

Fighting pits the Sudanese army, commanded by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, against the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), led by Burhan’s former deputy Mohamed Hamdan Daglo.

The UN, African Union and East African bloc IGAD all welcomed the latest truce, which comes after around 1,000 people lost their lives.

More than one million have been uprooted, internally or by crossing into neighbouring countries.

Millions more are trapped with sporadic access to water, electricity or medicine.

Many have been separated from their families by unrelenting gunfire.

For Sawsan Mohammed, who lives in the capital’s south, the ceasefire — if implemented — “will be my first chance to see my mother and father in Omdurman”, just a bridge across the Nile River, she told AFP. 

Aerial footage last week showed a hellish scene in the Omdurman Market area, a heavily built-up district where multiple fires burned and people ran on rubble strewn streets.

The United Nations aid chief, Martin Griffiths, has decried “important and egregious” breaches of an agreement signed by the warring parties on May 12 in Jeddah to respect humanitarian principles and allow in badly needed aid.

A UN report on Sunday said there had been “at least 11 attacks against humanitarian premises in Khartoum, and four new attacks against health facilities” since the May 12 signing.

That agreement is “an integral part” of the latest ceasefire deal, a text released by the United States says.

Along with Khartoum, the western region of Darfur has seen some of the worst violence.

The UN has reported hundreds of people killed in West Darfur and on Sunday said all 86 gathering sites for displaced people in El Geneina “have reportedly been burnt to the ground.”

“We do not trust the warring sides,” said Adam Issa, a shop owner in El Geneina, West Darfur. “Every time they announce a truce and they go back to fighting. We want a permanent ceasefire, not a temporary truce.”

Darfur is still reeling from a conflict that erupted in 2003 when former autocrat Omar al-Bashir unleashed the feared Janjaweed militia — which formed the basis for the RSF — to crush a rebellion by ethnic minority groups.

Burhan on Friday officially sacked Daglo from the position he held on a governing council formed after they launched a coup in October 2021. Their putsch derailed a transition to civilian rule put in place following Bashir’s overthrow in 2019. 

Former rebel leader Malik Agar, who replaced Daglo as the council’s vice president, on Saturday said he was determined to try to “end the war”.

He also directly addressed Daglo, whose dispute with Burhan over the RSF’s integration into the regular army led to the war.

“Sudan’s stability can only be re-established by a professional and unified army”, Agar said.

Residents of densely-populated neighbourhoods have accused RSF fighters of widespread break-ins and looting.

In the Vatican on Sunday, Pope Francis welcomed “the partial agreements reached so far” but called “on the international community to spare no effort… to ease the suffering of the population”.

With most banks shuttered, warehouses and factories looted, attacked and burned, and fuel in scarce supply, access to food across Sudan is becoming increasingly difficult.

Aid agencies have been ramping up their response, despite the challenges.

Currently, 25 million people — more than half of the population — need humanitarian aid, the UN said.

The head of the global body’s Sudan mission, Volker Perthes, is to brief the UN Security Council on Monday.

Sudan was also on the world stage at Cannes, where director Mohamed Kordofani’s “Goodbye Julia” became the first Sudanese film featured in the Official Selection.

Kordofani said he felt honoured and proud but also guilty, because “while I am on the red carpet, people are trying to flee the bombs.”

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