US pushes peace talks in Sudan, fears ‘return of extremist elements’

US pushes peace talks in Sudan, fears ‘return of extremist elements’

The United States hopes for a relaunch of talks aimed at ending the conflict in Sudan and opening up humanitarian access soon after Ramadan ends in mid-April, Washington’s newly-appointed envoy said on Thursday.

Saudi Arabia and the United States led talks in Jeddah last year to try to reach a truce between Sudan’s army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), but the negotiations faltered amid competing international peace initiatives.

“We need to restart formal talks. We hope that will happen as soon as Ramadan is over,” Tom Perriello, who took up his role as US special envoy to Sudan late last month, told reporters.

“Everybody understands that this crisis is barrelling towards a point of no return, and that means everybody needs to put whatever differences aside and be united in finding a solution to this conflict.”

The army and the RSF began battling each other in mid-April last year as tensions over plans for a new political transition and restructuring of the military erupted into heavy fighting.

The two sides had staged a coup in 2021 that derailed a transition towards elections following the overthrow of autocratic ruler Omar al-Bashir in a popular uprising two years earlier.

The conflict has driven nearly 8.5 million people from their homes creating the world’s biggest displacement crisis, pushed parts of the 49-million population close to famine, and triggered waves of ethnically-driven violence in the western region of Darfur.

The army, which has recently regained some ground in the capital, shunned an appeal from the UN Security Council for a ceasefire during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

“Every week we wait without a peace deal makes the potential for famine more protracted, and the atrocities that we know that have been documented continue,” Perriello said.

Talks could build on efforts in Jeddah, Manama and Cairo and should involve African leaders, regional bodies and Gulf states, the envoy said. “This next round of formal talks should be inclusive. But it also has to be people who are truly serious about ending the war,” he said.

Support by regional powers for rival factions in Sudan has contributed to fears of the country fragmenting and the war spilling over beyond its borders.

Asked about reported Iranian support for the army, which includes Islamist factions that grew strong under Bashir, the US envoy said he was concerned about the return of extremists in Sudan.

“We are hurtling right now towards a situation where more and more actors appear to be getting involved, where we could see a return of extremist elements that the Sudanese people with great courage and over much time had mostly eradicated from the area,” he said.

US aid
The US also announced more than $47 million in humanitarian aid for war-torn Sudan and two neighbouring countries, to where at least a million people have fled in the nearly one-year-old conflict.

The aid package is expected to help alleviate the suffering of nearly 25 million people, including refugees who have fled the country into Chad and South Sudan, according to a statement Wednesday from the US State Department.

“This US humanitarian assistance provides critical life-saving assistance including food, water and sanitation facilities, shelter, medical services including mental health support, and protection to Sudanese fleeing the conflict,” it said.

The fresh funds bring to more than $968 million the total US humanitarian aid for Sudan since last year, the statement said.

More than nine million people are thought to be internally-displaced in Sudan, and 1.5 million refugees have fled into neighbouring countries.

The US relief funds were announced by Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees, and Migration Julieta Valls Noyes during a meeting in N’Djamena with Chadian Prime Minister Succès Masra. Chad will receive $18 million of the entire package, according to a statement posted by the US Population, Refugees and Migration Bureau on the social platform X, formerly known as twitter.

Chad alone has received nearly 700,000 people from Sudan since the conflict erupted.

The US announcement came the same day the UN director of humanitarian operations, Edem Wosornu, told the Security Council that Sudan might become the world’s worst hunger crisis with 18 million people already facing acute food insecurity.

She stressed the need for humanitarian aid complaining that the UN appeal for $2.7 billion for Sudan was less than five percent funded, receiving just $131 million.

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