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Egypt Holds Conference With Sudan's Neighbors on New Cease-Fire

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi meets with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to discuss Sudan's crisis and an Ethiopian dam, at the Ittihadiya presidential palace in Cairo, July 13, 2023.

Egypt is seeking ways to make an elusive cease-fire hold in the bloody Sudan conflict that has killed thousands and forced Sudan’s residents into at least six neighboring countries as refugees. Regional states worry that the ongoing conflict will destabilize them, as well.

Leaders from Sudan's seven key neighbors met Thursday in Cairo at the behest of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, who is hoping to prevent the three-month-old crisis from worsening and spilling into other regional states. Arab media reported that Sissi is trying to implement binding mechanisms with regional players in the conflict to make a cease-fire work, where previous attempts have failed.

Sissi told regional leaders at the opening session of Thursday's conference that everyone attending the meeting appears to understand the critical nature of finding a quick solution to the Sudan conflict.

He says that he thanks the heads of state and heads of government for their remarks to the conference, which indicate a deep understanding of the serious nature of the Sudan conflict and their interest in taking the necessary steps to put an end to that conflict.

Sissi went on to say that Sudan's seven neighbors are the most seriously affected by the conflict and "must unite their efforts and political positions to create the climate for a solution."

The conflict in Sudan has left more than 4,000 people dead and pushed close to 600,000 Sudanese refugees into Egypt, South Sudan, Chad, Libya, the Central African Republic and Ethiopia.

Despite the absence of Sudan's two key warring parties — Army commander Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and Rapid Support Forces Commander Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo — Sissi urged them to "stop further escalations and begin serious talks for a permanent and lasting cease-fire, in addition to opening supply lines to allow aid to enter the worst-affected regions."

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed told the gathering he "hopes that Sudan will have a leader that will take the initiative to stop the situation from deteriorating further and to contain the crisis, adding that the conflict has affected all of Sudan's regional neighbors due to the flow of refugees out of Sudan.

Ahmed went on to thank Saudi Arabia for its efforts to try and reach a cease-fire in the initial weeks of the conflict, and he argued that Egypt's initiative "must be implemented in concert with African Union efforts in order to find diplomatic channels to make a cease-fire work."

Sudan's ambassador to Egypt, however, told Arab media Wednesday that "outside forces are trying to complicate the conflict in his country by getting as many parties as possible involved in attempts to negotiate a solution, making the situation impossible to resolve."

Egyptian political sociologist Said Sadek tells VOA that Sudan "had the longest civil war of any African country, lasting from the country's date of independence in 1956 until 2011, creating fears that the current conflict is not likely to end any time soon."

Sadek added that one of the reasons that it's so difficult to implement a cease-fire is because "no regional state has good ties with both of Sudan's warring leaders, each of whom control key elements of the country and its economy."

"There is also this feeling that the two warring factions believe that they control a lot of resources, and they can't give them up and that's why they continue the fighting, because the economic aspect of this fight is controlling uranium and gold in Darfur," he said.

Sadek emphasized that Egypt's initiative took place "because Egypt had the hope that when Sudan's seven regional neighbors sat down together and all agreed that the conflict must end because it could spill over into their own territory, this could help cut the flow of ammunition and arms to the warring parties."

Two key actors in the conflict, however — the United Arab Emirates and the Russian Wagner group, which supports Sudan's Rapid Support Forces — did not attend Thursday's Cairo summit, according to Sadek, complicating efforts to resolve the conflict.