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Sudan warring sides make humanitarian pledge without truce

UN Special Representative in Sudan Volker Perthes speaks during a news conference in Khartoum, Sudan. - Reuters
UN Special Representative in Sudan Volker Perthes speaks during a news conference in Khartoum, Sudan. - Reuters

KHARTOUM: Warplanes roared overhead as explosions rocked Khartoum on Friday, just hours after Sudan's warring parties signed a commitment to respect humanitarian principles in their spiralling conflict, without a truce in sight.

Nearly one month after the outbreak of the fighting that has killed more than 750 people and displaced hundreds of thousands, the two sides signed the agreement late on Thursday during talks in the Saudi city of Jeddah.

But already by the next morning the situation on the ground appeared unchanged, with the forces of two rival generals again exchanging fire in the Sudanese capital, which is home to five million people.

A witness in south Khartoum reported "fighter jets overhead and the sound of clashes and explosions", while another in the city's north reported "air strikes and the sound of anti-aircraft missiles".

Envoys in Jeddah representing the two generals -- army chief Abdel Fattah al Burhan and paramilitary commander Mohamed Hamdan Daglo -- agreed to "affirm our commitment to ensure that civilians are protected at all times".

The agreement commits both sides 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.

Caution over talks

The United States and Saudi Arabia, which together led the diplomatic drive, said talks were ongoing with a proposal on the table for a 10-day truce, which would lead, in turn, to negotiations on a longer-term end to fighting.

But as fighting and looting raged, US diplomats were frank about the obstacles in the nearly week-long talks in the Saudi port city.

"This is not a ceasefire. This is an affirmation of their obligations under international humanitarian law," said a US official involved in the negotiations, who called the two sides "quite far apart".

"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.

Almost 200,000 people have fled Sudan in addition to hundreds of thousands who have been displaced inside the northeast African country, the UN said on Friday.

"As violence in Sudan continues for a fourth week, nearly 200,000 refugees and returnees have been forced to flee the country, with more crossing borders daily seeking safety," UN refugee agency spokeswoman Olga Sarrado told reporters in Geneva.

At least 18 humanitarian workers have been killed since the conflict flared on April 15, with many NGOs and United Nations agencies suspending their work at least temporarily.

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

Only 16 per cent of the capital's hospitals remain fully functional, with health facilities systematically looted, bombarded or suffering severe shortages of food and supplies. - AFP

UN envoy upbeat on Sudan ceasefire talks

A UN senior official expressed optimism on Friday that mediators would reach a ceasefire in the next few days, saying that he had assurances from one of the sides that they would continue negotiating in Saudi Arabia.

"I think the most important element of this understanding that was signed yesterday night is that both sides commit to continue their talks," Volker Perthes, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Sudan, told journalists in Geneva, adding that he had spoken to one of them this morning. - Reuters

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