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Sudanese pin hopes on Jeddah talks between warring factions


A Sudanese refugee boy who fled the violence in his country looks out of his makeshift shelter, near the border between Sudan and Chad in Koufroun, Chad May 6, 2023. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra/File Photo

Sudanese are pinning their hopes on talks in Jeddah between envoys of warring factions to end bloodshed that has killed hundreds and triggered a mass exodus, but there is no sign lasting relief will come anytime soon.

There has been no word on the progress of the talks which began on Saturday between the army and the rival paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in the Saudi Red Sea port city.

The combatants have said they would only try to tackle humanitarian issues like safe passage, not an end to the war. Numerous ceasefire have been violated since conflict erupted on April 15.

“If the Jeddah negotiations fail to stop the war this would mean that we won’t be able to return to our homes and our lives,” said Tamader Ibrahim, a 35-year-old government employee in Bahri, across the Blue Nile from Khartoum.

“We’re waiting on these negotiations because they’re our only hope.”

Mahjoub Salah, a 28-year-old doctor, said the areas of the capital hit by violence changed from day to day.

Salah witnessed heavy fighting and a neighbour getting shot in the abdomen in his central Khartoum district of Al Amarat last month, before renting a flat for his family in the south-east of the capital.

“We’re still waiting for our passports to get issued, but we don’t know how long this will take,” Salah said. “Then our plan is to travel from Port Sudan to Saudi Arabia.”

The U.S.-Saudi initiative is the first serious attempt to end fighting that has turned parts of Khartoum into war zones, derailed an internationally backed plan to usher in civilian rule after years of unrest, and created a humanitarian crisis.

A Saudi Foreign Ministry statement said “pre-negotiation” talks began on Saturday and “will continue in the coming days in the expectation of reaching an effective short-term ceasefire to facilitate humanitarian assistance.”

Sudan’s Forces of Freedom and Change, a political grouping leading the plan to transfer to civilian rule, welcomed the Jeddah talks on Saturday.

Battles since mid-April have killed hundreds of people and wounded thousands of others, disrupted aid supplies and sent 100,000 refugees fleeing abroad.

The RSF released what it said was a video of Sudanese army soldiers who surrendered. As one of them started to speak shooting could be heard in the background.

Thousands of people are pushing to leave from Port Sudan on boats to Saudi Arabia, paying for expensive commercial flights via Sudan’s only working airport or using evacuation flights.

Conflicts are not new to Sudan, a country that sits at a strategic crossroads between Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and the volatile Sahel region.

But most of them occurred in remote areas. This time intense fighting in Khartoum, one of Africa’s biggest cities, has made the conflict far more alarming for Sudanese.

Since the fighting erupted, the U.N. refugee agency has registered more than 30,000 people crossing into South Sudan, more than 90% of them South Sudanese. The true number is likely much higher, it says. Aid agencies fear the influx will worsen an already dire humanitarian crisis in South Sudan.