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UN Chief Calls for Cease-Fire in Sudan to Mark End of Ramadan

FILE - U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks at a press conference at U.N. headquarters in New York, Aug. 3, 2022.
FILE - U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks at a press conference at U.N. headquarters in New York, Aug. 3, 2022.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for an immediate halt to fighting in Sudan on Thursday and appealed for a three-day cease-fire to mark the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan to enable trapped civilians to seek safety and supplies.

“This must be the first step in providing respite from the fighting and paving the way for a permanent cease-fire,” Guterres told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York.

He had just met virtually with the heads of the African Union, Arab League and regional bloc IGAD, as well as representatives from other countries with influence. The session yielded no breakthroughs.

Guterres has been working the phones to achieve a de-escalation since violence erupted last Saturday between former allies, now rivals, Army Commander General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, the commander of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces.

“The cessation of hostilities must be followed by serious dialogue allowing for the successful transition, starting with the appointment of a civilian government,” the U.N. chief said.

Humanitarian crisis

Guterres told reporters it is “virtually impossible” for aid workers to conduct operations in the current state of hostilities, and he demanded that fighters stop targeting humanitarians.

Three employees of the World Food Program were killed in crossfire at the start of the fighting in Darfur. Others have been harassed and intimidated. There have also been reports of sexual assaults on aid workers. Warehouses have been attacked, looted and seized. The WFP said 4,000 metric tons of food was stolen at one of its depots in Nyala, south Darfur.

“There were no humanitarian services provided to Sudanese the last five days, simply because it’s not possible for any humanitarian workers to move outside of their home location or their compound,” the acting U.N. humanitarian and resident coordinator for Sudan, Abdou Dieng, told reporters by phone from the country.

He said the U.N. is hoping for a cease-fire to move staff in more dangerous areas to safer zones but noted that what is safe one day may not be safe the next.

World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Thursday that more than 330 people have been killed in the fighting and around 3,200 wounded.

The U.N. has warned that Sudan’s health care system “could completely collapse.” Hospitals need more staff and supplies, including blood.

At least 20 hospitals already have closed, according to Sudan’s minister of health. At least nine in the capital, Khartoum, are closed, with the potential for a dozen more to soon close, according to the United Nations.

Officials say this is all tragic for a country where one-third of the population – or nearly 16 million people – were in need of humanitarian assistance before the latest violence.

The U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, said Thursday that between 10,000-20,000 Sudanese have fled this week into neighboring Chad. The U.N.’s Dieng said his office has also received reports of people arriving in South Sudan and at the border area between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Calls for dialogue

The fighting between the army and RSF broke out after months of rising tensions over the country’s political future and plans to integrate the RSF into the national army.

Calls to end the fighting have come from around the world and within Africa, including the African Union, the Arab League and IGAD.

The presidents of Kenya, South Sudan and Djibouti say they plan to travel to Sudan in the coming days to hold discussions with the leaders.

But Sudan's two top generals have yet to express a willingness to negotiate, and each has demanded the other's surrender.

The clashes are part of a power struggle between Burhan, who also heads Sudan’s ruling military council, and Dagalo, also known as Hemedti, the deputy head of the council. The two generals joined forces in October 2021 to overthrow the transitional government formed after the 2019 ouster of longtime autocratic leader Omar al-Bashir.

The restructuring of the military was part of an effort to restore the country to civilian rule and end the political crisis.