Envoys of Sudan’s paramilitary forces will attend talks with the army scheduled for Saturday in Jeddah, their leader said, as the gathering’s international mediators pressed for an end to a conflict that has devastated the country.
The U.S.-Saudi initiative in Jeddah is the first serious attempt to end three weeks of fighting that have has turned parts of the Sudanese capital Khartoum into war zones and derailed an internationally backed plan to usher in civilian rule following years of unrest and uprisings.
Riyadh and Washington earlier welcomed the “pre-negotiation talks” between the army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), and urged them to actively engage following numerous violated ceasefires.
But both sides have made it clear they would only discuss a humanitarian truce, not negotiate an end to the war.
Confirming his group’s attendance, RSF leader Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, commonly know as Hemedti, said he hoped the talks would achieve their intended aim of securing safe passage for civilians.
Sudan’s armed forces said they sent a delegation to the Red Sea city on Friday evening, but special envoy Dafallah Alhaj said the army would not sit down directly with any delegation that the “rebellious” RSF might send.
Hemedti has meanwhile vowed to either capture or kill army leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan Burhan, and there was also evidence on the ground that both sides remain unwilling to make compromises to end the bloodshed.
In the city of Bahri across the Nile from Khartoum, warplanes were heard overnight and explosions startled residents. “We don’t leave the house because we’re scared of stray bullets,” said a local who gave his name as Ahmed.
An eyewitness in Eastern Khartoum reported gun clashes and airstrikes over residential areas on Saturday.
The conflict erupted on April 15, following the collapse of an internationally backed plan for a transition to democracy.
Burhan, a career army officer, heads a ruling council installed after a 2021 military coup and the 2019 ouster of long-time autocrat Omar al-Bashir, while Hemedti, a former miitia leader who made his name leading militias in the Darfur conflict, is his deputy.
Prior to the fighting, Hemedti had been taking steps like moving closer to a civilian party that suggest he has big political plans. Burhan has blamed the war on his “ambitions.”
Western powers have backed the transition to a civilian government in a country that sits at a strategic crossroads between Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Africa’s volatile Sahel region.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan was travelling to Saudi Arabia for talks with Saudi leaders.
Saudi Arabia has had close ties to Burhan and Hemedti, both of whom sent troops to help the Saudi-led coalition in its war against the Houthi group in Yemen. The kingdom is also focused on security in the Red Sea, which it shares with Sudan.
The U.N. has significantly cut back its operations in Sudan after three of its employees were killed and its warehouses were looted, and sought guarantees of safe passage of humanitarian aid.
The fighting has also impacted vital infrastructure and caused the closure of most hospitals in conflict areas. U.N. agencies have warned of a humanitarian catastrophe if clashes continue.
The World Health Organisation said on Saturday it had delivered medical aid to Port Sudan, but was awaiting security and access clearances that have prevented several such shipments from reaching Khartoum, where the few hospitals operating are running out of supplies.