JEDDAH, MAY 21, 2023 (REUTERS) – Sudan’s warring factions signed an agreement late on Saturday for a seven-day ceasefire as fighting that has plunged the country into chaos and displaced more than a million entered its sixth week.
The ceasefire will take effect at 9:45 p.m. Khartoum time (1945 GMT) on Monday, the sponsors of the talks, the United States and Saudi Arabia, said in a joint statement.
Numerous previous ceasefire agreements were violated. However, this agreement will be enforced by a U.S.-Saudi and international-supported monitoring mechanism, the statement said without providing details.
The agreement also calls for distributing humanitarian assistance, restoring essential services and withdrawing forces from hospitals and essential public facilities.
“It is past time to silence the guns and allow unhindered humanitarian access. I implore both sides to uphold this agreement — the eyes of the world are watching,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.
The fighting between Sudan’s army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) has led to a collapse of order. Stocks of food, cash and essentials are rapidly dwindling, and mass looting has hit banks, embassies, aid warehouses and even churches.
Aid groups have said they are unable to provide sufficient assistance in Khartoum, the capital, in the absence of safe passage and security guarantees for staff.
Air strikes were reported on Saturday by eyewitnesses in southern Omdurman and northern Bahri, the two cities that lie across the Nile from Khartoum, forming Sudan’s “triple capital”. Some of the strikes took place near the state broadcaster in Omdurman, the eyewitnesses said.
“We faced heavy artillery fire early this morning, the whole house was shaking,” Sanaa Hassan, a 33-year-old living in the al-Salha neighbourhood of Omdurman, told Reuters by phone.
“It was terrifying, everyone was lying under their beds. What’s happening is a nightmare,” she said.
The RSF is embedded in residential districts, drawing almost continual air strikes by the regular armed forces.
Eyewitnesses in Khartoum said that the situation was relatively calm, although sporadic gunshots could be heard.
The conflict, which began on April 15, has displaced almost 1.1 million people internally and into neighbouring countries. Some 705 people have been killed and at least 5,287 injured, according to the World Health Organization.
In recent days ground fighting has flared once again in the Darfur region, in the cities of Nyala and Zalenjei.
Both sides blamed each other in statements late on Friday for sparking the fighting in Nyala, one of the country’s largest cities, which had for weeks been relatively calm due to a locally brokered truce.
A local activist told Reuters there were sporadic gun clashes near the city’s main market close to army headquarters on Saturday morning. Almost 30 people have died in the two previous days of fighting, according to activists.
The war broke out in Khartoum after disputes over plans for the RSF to be integrated into the army under an internationally backed deal to shift Sudan towards democracy following decades of conflict-ridden autocracy.