A declaration was signed by both the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), in which they committed to adhering to International Humanitarian Law in order to facilitate humanitarian efforts aimed at meeting the needs of civilians.
In a document titled “Jeddah Declaration of Commitment to Protect the Civilians of Sudan”, carried by Saudi state media, the warring parties also promised to prioritize discussions “to achieve a short-term ceasefire to facilitate the delivery of emergency humanitarian assistance and restoration of essential services.”
Representatives of the warring generals — SAF chief Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan and RSF paramilitary commander Mohamed Hamdan Daglo — have been meeting since Saturday in Jeddah for “pre-negotiation talks” facilitated by Saudi Arabia, with participation of the United States and the United Nations.
“We agree that the interests and well-being of the Sudanese people are our top priority and affirm our commitment to ensure that civilians are protected at all times. This includes allowing safe passage for civilians to leave areas of active hostilities on a voluntary basis, in the direction they choose,” the declaration said.
The two sides also affirmed their responsibility and obligation to “distinguish at all times between civilians and combatants and between civilian objects and military targets.”
A joint Saudi-US statement said “the declaration will guide the conduct of the two forces to enable the safe delivery of humanitarian assistance, the restoration of essential services, the withdrawal of forces from hospitals and clinics, and the respectful burial of the dead.”
“Following the signing, the Jeddah Talks will focus on reaching agreement on an effective ceasefire of up to approximately ten days to facilitate these activities. The security measures will include a US-Saudi and international-supported ceasefire monitoring mechanism,” the statement said.
Saudi Foreign Affairs Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan on Friday said the talks that took place and the declaration of commitment to protect civilians is just a first step.
“Other steps will follow, and the most important thing is to adhere to what was agreed upon. The Kingdom will work until security and stability return to Sudan and its people,” Prince Farhan said in a tweet .
More than 750 people had been reported killed and thousands wounded and displaced since fighting broke out in the North African country on April 15.
The signing of the document is crucial because at least 18 humanitarian workers have been killed in the fighting.
Many UN agencies and NGOs announced temporary suspensions of their work in Khartoum and Darfur in the face of violence. They have partially resumed their work, but remain wary of threats.
The UN’s World Food Programme said millions of dollars worth of food had been looted in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital city.
The agreement commits both sides in general terms to let in badly needed humanitarian assistance after looting and attacks targeting aid in the impoverished country, Africa’s third largest in area.
The declaration calls for the restoration of electricity, water and other basic services, the withdrawal of security forces from hospitals and “respectful burial” of the dead.
A US official involved in the talks, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a proposal on the table would establish a new 10-day truce, which would lead, in turn, to negotiations on a longer-term end to fighting.
“This is not a cease-fire. This is an affirmation of their obligations under international humanitarian law, particularly with regard to the treatment of civilians and the need to create space for humanitarians to operate,” the official said.
“We are hopeful, cautiously, that their willingness to sign this document will create some momentum that will force them to create the space” to bring in relief supplies, she said.
The two sides also agreed for the first time on a way to monitor any cease-fire, officials said.
A second US official said the negotiations were “very tough” and acknowledged that both sides may have ulterior motives through the cease-fire monitoring.
“Candidly, there is some hope on both sides that the other side would be seen as being the perpetrator of violations,” he said.
But, he added that the length of time spent in brokering the first step would at least make the cease-fire more “effective” if reached.
Diplomats and experts have questioned whether the two sides want peace or if they are more interested in vanquishing the other.
The conflict erupted when the paramilitary forces, established and groomed by former dictator Omar Al-Bashir, refused to be integrated into the army in line with a pathway for a transition to civilian rule.
The US brokered a temporary truce and threatened sanctions on the warring parties last week after it expired.
Some US lawmakers have voiced alarm that the focus on the two generals essentially sidelines the pro-democracy forces.
“We cannot allow the civilian leadership of the groups that led the brave uprising that overthrew Omar Al-Bashir to be shoved aside,” Senator Chris Coons, a Democrat close to President Joe Biden, told a hearing Wednesday.
Also Thursday, the United Nations’ top rights body narrowly decided to beef up monitoring of abuses in Sudan, expanding the work of an existing special rapporteur.
But the vote was close. The move was led by Western countries, with 18 members of the Human Rights Council in favor, 15 opposed and 14 abstaining.