Middle East

Leaders of Sudan’s warring factions agree to seven-day ceasefire, South Sudan says

By Amy Cassidy, Ingrid Formanek and David McKenzie, CNN

The Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) – the two warring factions in Sudan – have agreed to a seven-day ceasefire, the foreign ministry of South Sudan said in a statement Tuesday.

The two sides also said they would send representatives for peace talks “to be held at an agreed venue of their choice,” it added.

The SAF or RSF have both yet to comment on the report on their official channels.

Previous ceasefires have failed to stop the fighting between the rival factions in various parts of the country. Failed negotiations between the head of the Sudanese army Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and RSF leader Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo broke out into intense clashes between both sides in mid-April, sparking a mass exodus of refugees from the conflict-ridden country and leading to the deaths of at least 528 people.

Tuesday’s announcement came after the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR) warned more than 800,000 people may flee to neighboring countries, as the ongoing violence stifles evacuation convoys from key ports in Sudan.

Black smoke billows over Khartoum in conflict-ridden Sudan, where the country's armed forces and the RSF have agreed to a seven-day ceasefire.

“In consultation with all concerned governments and partners, we have arrived at a planning figure of 815,000 people that may flee into the seven neighboring countries,” Raouf Mazou, the organization’s assistant high commissioner for operations, said Monday.

An estimated 73,000 people have already fled Sudan to neighboring countries, Mazou added.

Thousands of foreign nationals have escaped the country as Western powers stepped in to evacuate their own citizens, while thousands more local families have risked perilous journeys from the capital Khartoum as they have been left to fend for themselves.

Evacuees travel across the Red Sea from Port Sudan to the Saudi King Faisal navy base in Jeddah, on Saturday. The UN's refugee agency warned over 800,000 people may flee as a result of the violence.

‘Fatal to try to escape’

Many locals remain trapped in their homes, with water, food, medicine and electricity shortages increasing the risk of a humanitarian crisis, as relief organizations prioritize medical aid distribution to hospitals caught up in the conflict.

The violence flared last week in West Darfur, with attacks against civilians in the city of El Geneina continuing into Tuesday. Both warring generals Burhan and Dagalo have history in the area, having played key roles in the counterinsurgency against rebels in the region’s civil war that began in 2003.

Burhan controlled the Sudanese army in Darfur, while Dagalo was the commander of one of the many Arab militias, the Janjaweed, which was implicated in human rights violations and atrocities.

“It can be fatal to try to escape” said Karl Schembri, of the Norwegian Refugee Council, NRC.

“You risk your life if you stay,” and risk it if you leave, NRC’s media advisor for the region said in a phone call with CNN.

Schembri called the situation in Sudan’s Darfur region “total mayhem,” with displacement camps set on fire, shelters burned to the ground and civilians killed in the fighting over recent days.

There are shortages of food, water, and medical supplies, with nearly all hospitals not operational, or in some way damaged. Fuel can only be found on the black market, forcing many people to abandon their vehicles, and forced to walk to escape.

People who have been previously displaced by the long-standing unresolved conflict in Darfur, and refugees from other regional conflicts as far as Syria and Yemen have been displaced again, some for the second, third or fourth time, Schembri said. A number of displaced who are NRC volunteer workers have also been caught in the fighting.

At least 94 people have been killed since April 20 in the Sudanese city of El Geneina in West Darfur, according to a statement from the Sudanese Doctors’ Union on Tuesday.

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