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Sudanese Army Chief Seeks UN Envoy's Dismissal, Says He Stoked Conflict

FILE - Volker Perthes (C), Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Sudan and Head of the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan, oversees the evacuation of personnel in Port Sudan on April 24, 2023.

Sudan's army chief, General Abdel-Fattah Burhan, has accused U.N. special envoy Volker Perthes of stoking a brutal conflict with paramilitaries, the latest in a series of apparent moves to bolster his war effort.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was shocked by Burhan's letter, which requested "the nomination of a replacement" to Perthes and accused him of committing "fraud and disinformation" in facilitating a political process that broke down into six weeks of devastating urban warfare. Guterres said he was "proud of the work done by Volker Perthes and reaffirms his full confidence in his Special Representative."

Burhan and his former deputy, General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, who commands the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, were meant to meet for negotiations facilitated by the U.N. on April 15, the day they turned Khartoum into a war zone.

The meeting aimed to restore a transition to civilian rule disrupted since 2021 when Burhan and Dagalo together seized power in a coup before falling out. As their feud worsened, the international community tried to get them to reach a deal on integration of Dagalo's RSF into the regular army.

Since late last year Perthes and the U.N. mission in Sudan, which he heads, have been the target of several protests by thousands of military and Islamist supporters who accused Perthes of foreign intervention and demanded his dismissal.

Similar protests have taken place in the eastern city of Port Sudan since the war started.

Perthes had maintained his optimism and said the war took him "by surprise."

In the letter, Burhan said Perthes presented a misleading picture of consensus in his reports to the U.N., and "without these signs of encouragement, the rebel leader Dagalo would not have launched his military operations."

It has not been possible to verify who fired the first shots.

The fighting across Sudan has killed more than 1,800 people, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project.

The United Nations says more than a million people have been displaced within Sudan, in addition to 319,000 who have fled to neighboring countries, raising concerns for regional stability.

A one-week cease-fire brokered by the U.S. and Saudi Arabia expires Monday night.

Burhan last week officially sacked Dagalo as his deputy in the ruling Sovereign Council, replacing him with former rebel leader Malik Agar.

But even after reports of Burhan's letter emerged, Agar said he had spoken to Perthes about "ways to resolve the crisis and end the war."

Perthes is in New York, where last Monday he briefed the Security Council on Sudan. He responded to those who "accuse the U.N." by saying those responsible are "the two generals at war."

Perthes "may not be allowed back into Sudan," according to Sudanese analyst Kholood Khair, founder of Khartoum-based think tank Confluence Advisory.

"His visa will be a litmus test to gauge the resurgence of the Islamists," she wrote on Twitter.

Pro-democracy voices have long accused Burhan of being a Trojan horse for Islamists from the regime of strongman Omar al-Bashir, whom the military ousted in 2019 after mass protests.

Several high-ranking officials from the Bashir era have found roles in Burhan's administration since the coup.

During the fighting Burhan's backing has grown clearer, including "a web of crony-capitalist corporations, from banks and telecom companies owned by Islamists and intelligence officers to companies owned by the military itself," according to Sudan expert Alex de Waal.

Dagalo himself has called Burhan an "Islamist" and a "coup plotter" intent on reviving "the vestiges of the old regime."

Dagalo, whose RSF are descendants of the notorious Janjaweed militia unleashed by Bashir in Darfur, has links to gold mines, and de Waal has said he has thrived in an environment "where money and guns determine everything."