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UN Humanitarian Chief: Sudan Appears To Be in a Brutal Civil War

FILE - People watch as smoke rises during clashes between the army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, in Omdurman, Sudan July 4, 2023.
FILE - People watch as smoke rises during clashes between the army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, in Omdurman, Sudan July 4, 2023.

Sudan appears to be in a civil war “of the most brutal kind” and the world needs a new forum for talks in pursuit of a cease-fire, the United Nations humanitarian chief told The Associated Press Monday.

Martin Griffiths spoke as regional leaders met in neighboring Ethiopia following the breakdown of peace talks in Saudi Arabia in June. Egypt says it will host leaders from Sudan’s neighbors Thursday in search of peace, with few details.

“We don’t have a place, a forum, where the two parties are present ... where we can broker the kind of basic agreements that we need to move supplies and people,” Griffiths said. He called Sudan the toughest place in the world for humanitarian workers in terms of access and warned that the crisis will only worsen as the fighting spreads to new areas.

“We have to re-create the architecture that we had for a little while in Jeddah,” he said of the Saudi- and U.S.-mediated talks. He criticized those discussions as “very clunky, very time consuming,” but said at least “it did produce some real movements” in facilitating aid access.

Sudan descended into chaos after fighting broke out between top army Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan and his rival, Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, commander of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, on April 15.

The army and RSF have agreed to at least 10 temporary cease-fires, but all have failed. Riyadh and Washington, in adjourning negotiations, accused both forces of failing to respect the agreements.

The conflict has killed over 3,000 people and wounded over 6,000 others, Sudan Health Minister Mohammed Ibrahim said last month and warned that the true death toll is likely to be far higher. More than 2.9 million people have fled their homes.

“If I were Sudanese, I find it hard to imagine that this isn’t a civil war … of the most brutal kind,” the U.N. humanitarian chief said. “Part of that is it’s not limited to one place, it’s spreading, it’s viral … it’s a threat to the state itself ... and if that doesn’t qualify for being a civil war, I don’t know what does.”

Griffiths said there is a pressing need to create a forum to facilitate humanitarian access and local cease-fires so trucks and goods can get into specific areas. Any new forum should have greater representation for humanitarian organizations, he said.

In Sudan’s capital, RSF troops appear to have the upper hand in the streets, having commandeered civilian homes and turned them into operational bases. The army has retaliated with airstrikes that have struck residential areas and sometimes hospitals.

In the western Darfur region, the conflict’s other epicenter, entire villages have been overrun by RSF fighters and their allied militias, forcing tens of thousands of residents to flee to neighboring Chad.

In the province of West Darfur, the fighting has morphed into ethnic violence, U.N. officials have said, with the RSF and Arab militias reportedly targeting non-Arab tribes. Activists and tribal leaders from the province say residents have been killed, women and girls raped, and properties looted and burned.