Sudan: blood and deadlock in negotiations. Until?

(To Enrico Magnani)

The civil war is nearing its fourth month, with no deal in sight. The Khartoum government has extended the airspace closure until mid-August1. The conflict disappeared from the media as negotiations stalled. Without immediate resolution, war it could destabilize the entire region.

The Sudan war between the regular army and the rapid support forces (RSF, o janjaweed organized) rages particularly in the capital Khartoum and in the regions of Darfur and Kordofan and has caused thousands of deaths, 700.00 refugees and three million IDPs (Internally Displaced Persons).

At the outbreak of the conflict, there were several initiatives to end it but with insignificant effects on the ground. In the early days, the United States and Saudi Arabia tried to secure a ceasefire to create humanitarian corridors. However, of the 12 ceasefires declared, none were successful.

Sudan, a complex country (it has 56 ethnic groups and its 48 million inhabitants speak more than 115 languages ​​and dialects) quickly fell out of the news cycle just weeks after the war started, when foreign nationals were successfully evacuated , similarly to Afghanistan in August 2021, when the US withdrew its troops after 20 years. The country typically only resurfaces if the story is connected to the Wagner Group and Russia.

Sources report that the RSF is allegedly receiving support from the UAE through Wagner-controlled areas in the Central African Republic. This could be realistic, especially after elements of the RSF captured the Om Dafoug strategic military base on the border between the two countries.

The RSF would now control a swath of territory from Om Dafoug to Omdurman, Khartoum's twin city on the west bank of the Nile River, facilitating the flow of weapons2. This control makes it easy for them to smuggle weapons into the capital, Khartoum, whose strategic positions have been occupied by the RSF (except Wadi Saeedna Air Base, and two other installations), despite being half the size of the regular forces.

A media report suggested that at least 28 flights between the UAE and the CAR took place within two weeks in May, while more planes reportedly exported gold from RSF-controlled areas to Russia.3.

The United States and Saudi Arabia, despite an alleged influence over the fighting generals, Abdelfatah al-Burhan, head of the Sudanese army, and Mohamed Hamdan Daglo (better known as Hemeti), head of the RSF, have not committed much capital so far politician in diplomatic efforts. This approach was demonstrated very clearly when they announced that they would interrupt the talks in Jeddah for the Eid al-Adha holiday and since then attempts to renew the dialogue have been lagging behind, delegations have been in Jeddah since mid-July but have not news of developments4.

Some economic sanctions have been imposed on both warring sides by the US, freezing the assets of some companies known to support them financially. A similar step was taken by the UK, but with little effect.

The parties to the conflict continue their economic and financial operations, in the wake of what was done by the regime of former president Omar al-Bashir, which survived 20 years of sanctions by Washington by stipulating agreements with China and Russia. With his strong ties to Russia, al-Burhan sent a delegation to Moscow earlier this month led by Malik Agar, the new deputy head of the sovereign council.

The army has shown its potential to follow in Bashir's footsteps attacking Western representatives and declaring the head of the UNITAMS mission persona non grata (UN Interim Transition Assistance in Sudan), German orientalist Volker Perthes, two weeks after being accused of inflaming the conflict, adding to the long list of UN leaders expelled from Khartoum5. Subsequently he rejected the initiative of the regional body, theIntergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD), currently led by Kenya, accepting Egypt's initiative instead, even if with little or no results.

Like all these conflicts, the consequences are heavy for the civilian populations, with the collapse of health structures, explosion in food prices and their shortages, and, as mentioned, thousands of displaced people, both inside and in surrounding countries, who have already Their problems.

Despite the negotiations stalemate, it seems that the RSF are now more willing to negotiate, however the military leadership, supported by many elements of former president Al-Bashir who have returned to the ranks, refuses (in difficulty, does not want to be imposed diktats), harshly criticizing General Shams al-Din Kabashi, an important leader of the junta, who announced the potential restart of negotiations with the RSF in Jeddah and that the army is open to having a civilian government until the next elections.

The only option for restarting the dialogue is one serious pressure on Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt, aligned, even if in a volatile and instrumental way, with the parties. The UAE reportedly managed to send military equipment through the Chadian Amdjarass airport, near the Sudanese border of Darfur, to the RSF6. Unconfirmed reports report that Egyptian planes would have attacked RSF convoys (it must be remembered that General al-Burhan and President Al Sissi would be personal friends, since the days of the military academy in Cairo), one coming from eastern Libya, where Hemeti has strong ties, and the other from Kordofan to Omdurman7.

Unless pressure is exerted to end support for the two warring parties, the protracted conflict will destabilize the entire region from the Sahel to the Horn of Africa. We must not forget that among the stakes is the future of the naval base of Port Sudan, which if it ends up in the hands of Russia (not forgetting China), would be a knife to the jugular of the maritime trades of the Mediterranean-Suez Canal-Red Sea-Bab el Mandeb Strait-Indian Ocean axis8, not to mention the possible re-emergence of jihadist groups such as Boko Haram and ISIS; many were held in Khartoum and some of their members escaped from Sudanese prisons when the conflict erupted.

Should a truce be reached, monitoring of the would be necessary cease-fire, which would be a problem, since in a phase like this it is increasingly difficult to find neutral and/or impartial actors acceptable to the two contenders. The mechanism would impose forces to control the truce lines and/or observers, as the previous truces are all blown up due to their absence. IGAD itself9 it turns out to be a weak and internally divided reality10 and the regular forces have already boycotted the meeting promoted by the regional body11.

The solution would be to put pressure on both sides, as done by the USA in 2005 when it was signedComprehensive Peace Agreement which separated Sudan from South Sudan, extended to the civilian front.

1 Sudan extends airspace closure until Aug. 15 due to conflict, Reuters, 31.07.2023).

2 Wagner Group Amplifies Sudan Conflict With Weapons Drop, Africa Defense Forum, 09.05.2023).

3 Sudan's gold: The precious metal used to fund conflicts, the new Arab, 09.05.2023; With Weapons And Gold Mining, Wagner Cashes In On Sudan Chaos, Africa Defense Forum, 16.05.2023

4 Sudan Government Representatives Arrive in Jeddah to Resume Talks With RSF, Voice of America, 15.07.2023

5 Sudan declares UN envoy Volker Perthes 'persona non grata', 23.06.2023 Al Jazeera; Big-Power Rivalries Hamstring Top UN Missions, Foreign Policy, 22.07.2020

6 Four Months of War in Sudan: Civilians Trapped and Negotiations out of Sight, Wilson Center, 31.07.2023

7 Sudan's Ghosts of Darfur Come Back to Haunt It, Foreign Policy 19.06.2023

8 pre-civil war Russia obtained fairly limited access to that base from Sudan in February, Sudan's Leader Agrees to Host Russian Naval Base on Red Sea, The Maritime Executive, 12.02.2023

9 Intergovernmental Authority on Development - IGAD is an international political-trade organization formed by the countries of the Horn of Africa, founded in 1986. Its members include Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan , South Sudan [since 2011], Uganda

10 only with great effort was it possible to establish a surveillance mechanism between the parties in South Sudan, moreover financed by the international community, IGAD Monitoring and Verification Teams commence operations in South Sudan, Reliefweb, 15.04.2014)

11 Sudan govt boycotts regional peace talks in Ethiopia, Africa, Africa News, 10.07.2023

Photo: Kremlin