As foreign mediators pushed to put an end to a conflict that has killed hundreds of people and forced tens of thousands of refugees to flee abroad, Riyadh and Washington announced that the warring parties in Sudan were scheduled to have talks on Saturday in the Saudi city of Jeddah on the Red Sea.
According to a joint statement, Saudi Arabia and the US welcomed the beginning of “pre-negotiation talks” between the Sudanese army and its adversary, the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), and urged both parties to actively engage and reach a truce.
Sudan’s Forces of Freedom and Change, a political grouping leading an internationally backed plan to transfer to civilian rule, also welcomed the Jeddah talks on Saturday.
The Jeddah initiative is the first serious attempt to end the fighting that has crippled the Sudanese government and endangered the country’s political transition following years of unrest and uprisings.
The conflict erupted on April 15 between the army of Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and the RSF of commander Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, a former militia leader known as Hemedti, following the collapse of an internationally-backed plan for a new transition with civilian parties.
Sudan’s armed forces said it sent a delegation to Jeddah on Friday evening as part of the American-Saudi initiative. The RSF did not immediately confirm its attendance, but both forces have said they will only discuss a humanitarian truce and not an end of the war.
Burhan’s special envoy, Dafallah Alhaj, said that the army will not sit down directly with any delegation the “rebellious” RSF might send.
Despite multiple ceasefire declarations, the fighting has showed no sign of abating.
However regional broadcasters said there was no exchange of gunfire in and around Khartoum in the early hours of Saturday.
Western powers, including the United States, have backed the plan for a new transition and a civilian government.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said he is travelling to Saudi Arabia on Saturday 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 – and which has been part of a vast economic plan for tourism called Saudi Vision 2030 and a strategic shipping lane for its oil exports.
Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday discussed a plan for the warring parties to reduce tensions, the kingdom said.
The U.N. has significantly cut back its operations in Sudan after three of its employees were killed and its warehouses were looted in the fighting. On Wednesday, U.N. aid chief Martin Griffiths said he was seeking meetings with Burhan and Hemedti to obtain guarantees of safe passage of humanitarian aid.
The fighting has impacted vital infrastructure and caused the closure of most hospitals in the fighting areas. U.N. agencies have warned of a major humanitarian catastrophe if fighting continues.
A group of countries led by Britain, the United States, Germany and Norway is set to request an urgent meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Council on the Sudan crisis next week, a document showed on Friday.