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Sudanese warring parties hold first high-level talks in Bahrain

SENIOR leaders from Sudan’s army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) met three times this month in Bahrain, sources with knowledge of the talks said, the first such contact between the two warring sides in nine months of conflict.

Unlike previous talks on war in Sudan, the meetings in Manama were attended by influential deputies from both forces and by officials from Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, key supporters of the army and RSF respectively, according to the four sources, two of whom were present at the talks.

The unannounced talks, which the sources said were also attended by the United States and Saudi Arabia, come after repeated attempts by both powers as well as East African nations to broker a ceasefire and a political deal to end the war made little headway.

The war in Sudan erupted last April over disputes about the powers of the army and the RSF under an internationally-backed plan for a political transition towards civilian rule and elections.

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The army and the RSF had shared power with civilians after the fall of former leader Omar al-Bashir in a popular uprising in 2019, before staging a coup two years later.

The fighting has wrecked parts of Sudan including the capital Khartoum, killed more than 13,000 people according to U.N. estimates, drawn warnings of famine, and created an internal displacement crisis.

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Talks held last year in the Saudi city of Jeddah featured lower-level officials and neither side maintained its commitments.

By contrast, in Manama the army was represented by hardliner General Shamseldin Kabbashi and the RSF by General Abdelrahim Dagalo, a brother of RSF commander Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, the sources said.

According to one participant, the two sides had tentatively agreed on a declaration of principles including maintaining the unity of Sudan and its military.

More talks to discuss a ceasefire were planned, but a follow-up meeting last week was postponed, the source added.

NO BREAKTHROUGH

Though there was no breakthrough, the meetings showed that the forces’ allies, concerned by the country’s descent towards state failure, were able to exert new pressure on them, says Crisis Group analyst Alan Boswell.

“Having Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates all behind a single peace effort has been a massive missing ingredient. It might not be sufficient but looks necessary,” Boswell said.

The UAE had not been closely involved in previous talks, while Egypt had pursued parallel discussions. U.N. experts say there is credible evidence that the UAE has been regularly arming the RSF, aiding its advance, which the Gulf state denies.

Representatives of the Sudanese army, the RSF, and the UAE declined to comment.

A U.S. State Department spokesman said the U.S. was “prepared to partner with regional actors that have leverage over the belligerents” but would not comment on negotiations.

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RSF ADVANCES

The RSF is in control of most of Khartoum and western Sudan, where it is accused of ethnic cleansing, and has recently made swift military advances raising fears that the country, Africa’s third largest by area, could fragment.

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This month the RSF pushed further east from its strongholds in Darfur, attacking Babanusa in West Kordofan State. Its troops also spread across Gezira state, which they overran last month.

Meanwhile, the army has made a push to regain territory in the capital and is recruiting and arming civilians in areas under its control.

In an apparent attempt to burnish his image, RSF chief Dagalo, whose whereabouts during the war had previously been unconfirmed, embarked on a regional tour earlier this month. Dagalo, known as Hemedti, was formally received by several African leaders, drawing condemnation from the army.

Hemedti also postponed a planned summit with Burhan in Djibouti that regional mediators said both men had agreed to, citing technical issues even as he flew to other countries.

For his part, in rallies with soldiers this week, Burhan has said that the war would continue unless negotiations were able to bring RSF soldiers to justice and return civilians home.

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By KHALID ABDELAZIZ

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