Sudan warring sides make humanitarian promise but no truce

WASHINGTON: Sudan’s warring parties signed a commitment late on Thursday (May 11) to humanitarian principles in their spiralling conflict but did not yet reach a ceasefire in talks described by US diplomats as difficult.

Representatives of the army and paramilitary forces, whose nearly one month of fighting has killed more than 750 people and displaced thousands, signed the agreement as they kept negotiating in the Saudi city of Jeddah.

“We affirm our commitment to ensuring the protection of civilians at all times, including by allowing safe passage for civilians to leave areas of active hostilities on a voluntary basis in the direction of their choice,” the declaration said.

The agreement commits both sides in general terms to let in badly needed humanitarian assistance after looting and attacks targeting aid in the impoverished country, Africa’s third largest in area.

The declaration calls for the restoration of electricity, water and other basic services, the withdrawal of security forces from hospitals and “respectful burial” of the dead.

A US official involved in the talks, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a proposal on the table would establish a new 10-day truce, which would lead, in turn, to negotiations on a longer-term end to fighting.

“This is not a ceasefire. This is an affirmation of their obligations under international humanitarian law, particularly with regard to the treatment of civilians and the need to create space for humanitarians to operate,” the official said.

“We are hopeful, cautiously, that their willingness to sign this document will create some momentum that will force them to create the space” to bring in relief supplies, she said.

But, she said the two sides remained “quite far apart” in the discussions.

At least 18 humanitarian workers have been killed since the war started on Apr 15.

Many UN agencies and NGOs announced temporary suspensions of their work in Khartoum and Darfur because of fighting. They later resumed their work in some areas, but still say they face violence.

The UN’s World Food Programme said millions of dollars worth of food was looted in Khartoum.

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