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Sudan Conflict Complicates Regional Peace, Hope for Civilian-Led Government

FILE - Sudanese refugees, who have fled the violence in their country, wait to receive food rations from World Food Program, near the border in Koufroun, Chad, May 9, 2023.

NAIROBI — Twenty-six days since the war in Sudan broke out, there are no indications the warring factions have any intentions of negotiating an end as fighting rages on.

Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the U.N. Human Rights Office, told VOA during a recent visit to Nairobi that the situation is troubling.

"Yes, there are cease-fires. Yes, that has led to some reprieve, some calm, where people have been able to get out of their homes and try to flee, but air strikes are continuing," Shamdasani said. "The takeover of presidential buildings for military purposes by the RSF [Rapid Support Forces] is continuing. And even people who are trying to flee, on the way, they are facing not only security risks but extortion. There are acute shortages of medicines, food, fuel. The situation is really rising to the level of a full-blown conflict."

The conflict has the potential to affect the whole region and beyond, Kwaku Nwamah, professor of international politics at American University in Washington, told VOA.

"Sudan has seven neighbors, all of whom have some degree of chronic instability. So, this conflict can go regional in a minute. It could even spill over across the Red Sea into Saudi Arabia, Yemen. So, there's a whole bunch of things that can go wrong in that region," Nwamah said.

Representatives from the Sudanese army and the RSF have been meeting in the Saudi city of Jeddah.

While the immediate need is to broker a truce and lay the groundwork for broader discussions, Susan Stigant, Africa director for the U.S. Institute of Peace, said there are concerns about Sudan getting back to a civilian-led government.

"Many people have expressed questions and concerns about the role of civilians and citizens and political leaders who will absolutely need to be at the center of discussion of any political future, and who are those who are really on the front lines right now responding to the humanitarian crisis inside of Sudan," Stigant said.

The head of the Rapid Support Forces, General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, said in a recent Twitter post that he and the RSF are "committed to democracy and the transition to a civilian-led government."

Dagalo's counterpart in the army, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, has made no such pledge — though Dagalo and Burhan did cooperate to overthrow Sudan's joint civilian-military government in October 2021.

The ongoing conflict has created an exodus to many neighboring countries, including South Sudan, which many people left a few years ago when that country experienced a civil war.

Now some people have been forced to return, said Charlotte Hallquist, spokesperson for the U.N. refugee agency in South Sudan.

"We have recorded almost 45,000 individuals, but the numbers are likely much higher than that," she said. "It's the ultimate tragedy of a second displacement. They fled their country during the civil war, they sought safety in Sudan and are now fleeing back to South Sudan."

She said many have spent long days on the road, walking, taking the bus or using donkey carts to cross the border into Upper Nile state, in South Sudan.

People are arriving exhausted and hungry, Hallquist said. The refugee agency is providing emergency relief at the border and transporting people to the town of Renk. However, Renk has limited resources, she said, and the agency is encouraging people to move on from there.