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Blinken warns Sudan's rivals after attack on US convoy

Blinken warns Sudan's rivals after US diplomatic convoy comes under fire
4 min read
18 April, 2023
Fighting between Sudan's army and the paramilitary RSF that erupted on Saturday has killed at least 185 people and injured more than 1,800, U.N. envoy Volker Perthes said.
Maxar closeup satellite imagery of the fires and smoke plumes coming from burning airplanes at the Khartoum international Airport, Sudan. [Getty]

A US diplomatic convoy came under fire in Sudan in an apparent attack by fighters linked to the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Tuesday, calling the incident "reckless" and "irresponsible".

Fighting between Sudan's army and the paramilitary RSF that erupted on Saturday has killed at least 185 people and injured more than 1,800, UN envoy Volker Perthes said.

The power struggle has derailed a shift to civilian rule and raised fears of a wider conflict.

Blinken, speaking in Japan, said the diplomatic convoy that came under fire on Monday was flying U.S. flags and all in the convoy were safe.

The shooting prompted a direct warning from Blinken, who separately telephoned RSF leader General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti, and Sudan's army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, to tell them that any danger posed to American diplomats was unacceptable.

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"We have deep concerns about the overall security environment," Blinken told a news conference at a meeting of Group of Seven foreign ministers in Japan.

Blinken urged both leaders to agree to a ceasefire and said they had a responsibility to "ensure the safety and wellbeing of civilians, diplomatic personnel, and humanitarian workers", the State Department said.

RSF Hemedti said he had "discussed pressing issues" with Blinken during their call and more talks were planned.

"We will have another call to continuing dialogue and working hand-in-hand to forge a brighter future for our nations," Hemedti, whose whereabouts have not been disclosed since the fighting began, said in a post on Twitter.

The battling factions have both claimed to have made gains amid airstrikes and fighting in the capital, Khartoum, and strife across the country.

The violence has cut power and water in Khartoum and smoke has been hanging over the city amid a clamour of airstrikes, artillery fire and shooting.

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Perthes, the UN envoy to Sudan, said on Monday the two sides showed no signs of being willing to negotiate.

"The two sides who are fighting are not giving the impression that they want mediation for peace between them right away," Perthes told reporters by video link from Khartoum.

He said the rivals had agreed on a three-hour humanitarian truce but fighting continued despite the promises of calm.

The clashes in Khartoum and its adjoining sister cities of Omdurman and Bahri are the worst in decades and risks tearing Sudan between two military factions that had shared power during a rocky political transition.

Army chief Burhan heads a ruling council installed after a 2021 coup and the 2019 ousting of veteran leader Omar Bashir during mass protests. RSF leader Hemedti is his deputy.

Egypt and the United Arab Emirates were working on a ceasefire proposal for Sudan, two Egyptian security sources said. Cairo is the most important backer of Sudan's armed forces while Hemedti has cultivated ties with foreign powers including the United Arab Emirates and Russia.

In a speech broadcast by Egyptian state television late on Monday, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said he was in regular contact with the army and RSF to "encourage them to accept a ceasefire and spare the blood of the Sudanese people".

The army's media office said Burhan would pardon RSF officers and soldiers who surrender and "lay down their arms". Those that do would be absorbed into the armed forces, he said.

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Burhan on Monday branded the RSF a rebel group and ordered it dissolved. Hemedti called the army chief "a radical Islamist who is bombing civilians from the air".

The eruption of fighting followed rising tensions over the RSF's integration into the military.

Under an internationally backed civilian transition plan, the RSF was shortly due to merge with the army.

In comments to Sky News, Burhan said he was secure in a presidential guesthouse within the defence ministry compound. 

While the army is larger and has air power, the RSF is widely deployed in neighbourhoods of Khartoum and other cities, giving neither faction the edge for a quick victory.

The violence could destabilise a volatile region and play into competition for influence there between Russia and the United States, and among regional powers that have courted different actors in Sudan.

UN chief Antonio Guterres urged a return to calm, saying an already precarious humanitarian situation was now catastrophic and UN aid chief Martin Griffiths said fighting had shuttered many aid programmes.