Sudan sides trade blame, fight on despite ceasefire
By El Tayeb Siddig and Aidan Lewis
KHARTOUM (Reuters) -Sudan's rival military forces accused each other of fresh violations of a ceasefire on Sunday as their deadly conflict rumbled on for a third week despite warnings of a slide towards civil war.
Hundreds of people have been killed and thousands wounded since a long-simmering power struggle between the Sudanese army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) erupted into conflict on April 15.
Both sides said a formal ceasefire agreement which was due to expire at midnight would be extended for a further 72 hours, in a move the RSF said was "in response to international, regional and local calls".
The army said it hoped what it called the "rebels" would abide by the deal but it believed they had intended to keep up attacks. The parties have kept fighting through a series of ceasefires secured by mediators including the United States.
The situation in Khartoum, where the army has been battling RSF forces entrenched in residential areas, was relatively calm on Sunday morning, a Reuters journalist said, after heavy clashes were heard on Saturday evening near the city centre.
The army said on Sunday it had destroyed RSF convoys moving towards Khartoum from the west. The RSF said the army had used artillery and warplanes to attack its positions in a number of areas in Khartoum province.
Reuters could not independently verify the reports.
In an apparent bid to boost its forces, the army said on Saturday that the Central Reserve Police had begun to deploy in southern Khartoum and would be deployed gradually in other areas of the capital.
Sudan's police said that the force had been deployed to protect markets and property that had been subjected to looting. The RSF on Saturday warned it against becoming involved in fighting.
The force is a large and heavily armed division of Sudan's police force that has fighting experience from conflicts in the western region of Darfur and in the Nuba Mountains in southern Sudan.
In March 2022, the United States imposed sanctions on the reserve police force, accusing it of using excessive force against protesters who were demonstrating against a 2021 military coup.
'NO DIRECT NEGOTIATIONS'
The fighting in Khartoum has so far seen RSF forces fan out across the city as the army tries to target them largely by using air strikes from drones and fighter jets.
The conflict has sent tens of thousands of people fleeing across Sudan's borders and prompted warnings the country could disintegrate, destabilising a volatile region and prompting foreign governments to scramble to evacuate their nationals.
The United States has sent a navy ship to take its citizens, two U.S. officials said, as Britain announced it had arranged an extra evacuation flight from Port Sudan on the eastern Red Sea coast on Monday.
Nearly 1,000 Americans have been evacuated since the violence began, U.S. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a statement, adding that a government convoy arrived in Port Sudan to take U.S. citizens and other eligible people to Saudi Arabia for further transit assistance.
But, underlining the extent of the instability, Canada said it was ending its evacuation flights because of "dangerous conditions".
The prospects for negotiations have appeared bleak.
"There are no direct negotiations, there are preparations for talks," U.N. special representative in Sudan, Volker Perthes, told journalists in Port Sudan, adding that regional and international countries were working with the two sides. Perthes told Reuters on Saturday the sides were more open to negotiations than before.
Army leader General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan has said he would never sit down with RSF chief General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, also known as Hemedti, who in turn said he would talk only after the army ceased hostilities.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan, whose government has played a part in mediating the ceasefires, met Burhan envoy Daffalla Al-Haj Ali in Riyad and called for calm, the Saudi foreign ministry said.
Adding to the diplomatic pressure, United Arab Emirates' Vice President Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed had phoned Burhan, state news agency WAM reported.
With the United Nations reporting only 16% of health facilities in Khartoum operating as normal, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) delivered 8 tonnes of medical aid.
But while approval had been given for the supplies to go to Khartoum, negotiations were ongoing with the sides to facilitate delivery within the city, where hospitals, convoys and ambulances have been attacked, he said.
U.N. aid chief Martin Griffiths said on Sunday that he is traveling to the region to "explore how we can bring immediate relief to the millions of people whose lives have turned upside down overnight."
He urged safe passage for civilians fleeing hostilities and for combatants to stop using medical personnel, transport and facilities "as shields."
At least five aid workers have been killed in the fighting.
A third of Sudan's 46 million people needed humanitarian aid before the fighting began.
The conflict has derailed an internationally backed political transition aimed at establishing democratic government in Sudan, where former autocratic President Omar Hassan al-Bashir was toppled in 2019 after three decades in power.
At least 528 people have been killed and 4,599 wounded, the health ministry said. The United Nations has reported a similar number of dead but believes the real toll is much higher.
(Reporting by Khaled Abdelaziz, El Tayeb Siddig and Ibrahim Mohamed Ishak in Sudan; Aidan Lewis, Nafisa Eltahir, Hatem Maher, Ahmed Tolba and Adam Makary in Cairo; Writing by Tom Perry and Andrew Heavens; Editing by Frances Kerry, Hugh Lawson and Nick Zieminski)