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UN aid chief seeks safe passage for humanitarian supplies in Sudan crisis

2023-05-03T11:46:13Z

View of the moon while a strike aircraft prepares for an aerial bombardment as clashes between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the Sudanese army continue, in Khartoum, Sudan, May 1, 2023. REUTERS/Stringer

U.N. aid chief Martin Griffiths said on Wednesday that he was seeking assurances from the warring factions in Sudan to safeguard the delivery of humanitarian assistance hours after air strikes in Khartoum undermined a new ceasefire.

“We will still require agreements and arrangements to allow for movement of staff and supplies,” he said from Port Sudan, where many people have fled as the army and Rapid Support Forces (RSF) have battled for three weeks.

“We will need to have agreement at the highest level and very publicly and we will need to deliver those commitments into local arrangements that can be depended on,” he told reporters via videolink from Port Sudan.

Air strikes were heard in Khartoum on Wednesday, a Reuters witness said, even as warring factions agreed to a new seven-day ceasefire from Thursday, weakening chances for a lasting truce.

The conflict has created a humanitarian crisis, with about 100,000 people forced to flee with little food or water to neighbouring countries, the United Nations said.

Aid deliveries have been held up in a nation where about one-third of people already relied on humanitarian assistance. A broader disaster could be in the making as Sudan’s impoverished neighbours grapple with the influx of refugees.

Previous ceasefire agreements between the army and a paramilitary force, whose power struggle erupted into full blown conflict in mid-April, have ranged from 24 to 72 hours, but none have been fully observed.

Tens of thousands of people have left Khartoum area and its adjoining cities, fearful of both airstrikes and soldiers from the paramilitary RSF.

Caught between army airstrikes overhead and RSF soldiers on the ground, many citizens feel forced to take sides.

“If I hear the (army) airstrikes I feel safe because at least I know the RSF won’t come into my house,” said Omdurman resident Salma, who said the relentless fighting keeps her up at night. “I protested against Bashir and against army rule, but for now they’re protecting me.”

South Sudan’s foreign ministry said on Tuesday that mediation championed by its president, Salva Kiir, had led both sides to agree a weeklong truce from Thursday to May 11 and to name envoys for peace talks. The current ceasefire was due to expire on Wednesday.

It was unclear, however, how army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and RSF leader General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo would proceed.

Army jets have been bombing RSF units dug into residential districts of the capital region.

Conflict has also spread to Sudan’s western Darfur region where the RSF emerged from tribal militias that fought alongside government forces to crush rebels in a brutal civil war dating back 20 years.

The commanders of the army and RSF, who had shared power as part of an internationally backed transition towards free elections and civilian government, have shown no sign of backing down, yet neither side seems able to secure a quick victory.

Fighting now in its third week has engulfed Khartoum – one of Africa’s largest cities – and killed hundreds of people. Sudan’s Health Ministry reported on Tuesday that 550 people have died and 4,926 have been wounded.

Foreign governments were winding down evacuation operations that sent thousands of their citizens home. Britain said its last flight would depart Port Sudan on the Red Sea on Wednesday and urged any remaining Britons wanting to leave to make their way there.