Failed ceasefires, deaths and millions displaced: No end in sight to Sudan conflict

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Fighting in Sudan has reached its fifth month, with no end in sight as regional powers struggle to broker a peace deal between the warring Rapid Support Forces (RSF) and Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF), with hopes of a civilian-led government looking bleak.

Conflict between the SAF and RSF began in April, with the country’s two most powerful military forces grappling for control. But peace talks and ceasefires to try and end the conflict have failed, with hundreds of innocent civilians having died and more than a million forced to flee.

“While we see a number of different efforts, we don’t see a unified position amongst those different regional neighboring countries to leverage their influence on the parties [in Sudan] to stop,” Ahmed Soliman research fellow at UK-based think tank Chatham House told Al Arabiya English.

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Joint efforts from the US and Saudi Arabia to broker peace between the RSF and the SAF have not yet led to stability within the country. The RSF led by General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti, and the SAF leader General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan refuse to cede their grip within the country.

In early June, the US and Saudi Arabia announced a suspension of the so-called Jeddah talks between RSF and SAF envoys, citing “repeated serious violations” of a ceasefire by Sudan’s warring parties.

Washington and Riyadh said the violations impeded the delivery of badly needed humanitarian aid to civilians.

As well as the well-publicized Saudi-US intervention, other parties have also attempted mediation with little success.

Africa tries to mediate

Kenyan President William Ruto, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and Djibouti’s President Omar Guelleh in April went to Khartoum in an effort to broker a ceasefire on behalf of IGAD - the Intergovernmental Authority on Development. IGAD is an Africa trade bloc comprising of Sudan, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea, Kenya and Uganda.

Meanwhile, members of the African Union, comprised of 55 states, are also attempting mediation talks.

Neither has managed to broker peace.

Vested regional interests

Sudan – which has been ruled by a council of generals headed by Hemedti and Dagalo since 2021 – is located at the confluence of four regions: North Africa, the Gulf, the Sahel and East Africa. The differing interests of countries in those regions “are playing into the conflict in Sudan” and how it might be resolved, Soliman said.

“Ultimately the real difficulty here is where the country is situated and its relationships,” said Soliman.

At the beginning of the conflict, there was speculation that Egypt – which shares its southern border with Sudan – might intervene in the conflict.

But “they don’t have a strong incentive to do so unless the RSF is pushing up against the border,” Ryan Bohl, Middle East and North African analyst at risk intelligence company RANE told Al Arabiya English.

The North African country has strong ties with the SAF which it cemented in 2019 by conducting joint military exercises with the SAF, following the ousting of former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.

While Egypt has strong ties with the SAF, Libya – which borders both Egypt and Sudan – is more aligned with the RSF. Libyan General Khalifa Haftar has even been sending fuel, ammunition and weapons through the country to the RSF, according to a Guardian report from April.

The RSF’s Hemedti is also well connected within Chad’s politics and military. Sudan has a border with Chad to the west of the country.

These competing relationships have hindered countries surrounding Sudan from presenting a strong and unilateral stance on the conflict and creating enough pressure on either side to stop fighting.

“The level of pressure needed [to stop RSF and SAF fighting] hasn’t been attained and part of that is perhaps competing priorities, competing relationships,” Soliman said.

“That has prevented this coordination of international and regional countries,” he added.

Can a civilian government be established?

The situation of how Sudan might be ruled in the future is an even more complicated process. It would involve politicians and citizens forming a civilian-led government without RSF or SAF involvement.

At the moment, trust in politicians who would have to lead the government is low, Dallia Abdelmoniem, Middle East and African analyst who fled Sudan when the fighting began, told Al Arabiya English.

“Sudanese people need politicians to step up and say ‘no, this has to end’, [but] so far none of them have stepped up,” she added.

Aside from low trust in politicians, getting to a point where the country is stable enough to form a democratic government seems a long way off.

“Sudanese people are going to expect a democratic run system where RSF privileges would be eroded … and the same with the Sudanese Armed Forces. [But this] basically means that neither side has a strong interest in democratization,” Bohl said.

Fighting is currently hammering the Sudanese capital, Khartoum.

Sudan’s army on Tuesday intensified efforts to gain ground in Khartoum in some of the heaviest fighting since the start of the conflict.

Armed forces have since Monday launched air strikes to capture a bridge across the Nile used by the RSF. The RSF is using the bridge to bring weapons from Omdurman to the other two cities that make up the wider capital, Bahri and Khartoum, residents said, according to media reports.

And neither side is showing signs of fatiguing, as both continue to be well-armed.

“The balance [of power] hasn’t shifted in one side or the other significantly so far after four months of fighting and it would take quite a substantial amount for it to do so,” Soliman said.

“The devastation of the conflict and the fact that it’s such a protracted war is having such a huge impact on people and their livelihoods, [and] there is potential for this conflict to escalate the longer it goes on … is extremely high.”

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