Sudan war: both El Burhan and Hemedti arrive in Saudi Arabia

USA and Saudi Arabia in Sudan negotiations - Cartoon by Omar Dafallah, June 2023 (RD)

Lt Gen Abdelfattah El Burhan, head of Sudan’s Sovereignty Council and commander of the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF), and Lt Gen Mohamed ‘Hemedti’ Dagalo, commander of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) reportedly arrived in Saudi Arabia last night, raising hope for the country’s population of 48 million people that the clashes may come to an end soon. A military expert explained to Radio Dabanga that the war between the SAF and the RSF cannot be resolved militarily.

An “informed Sudanese source” expects a new round of negotiations between the two parties who have been fighting each other since April 15. The ongoing violent conflict has led to thousands of civilian deaths. More than five million people, one in every 10 people across Sudan, fled their homes and sought refuge in safer places within the country or abroad. Over six million people in Sudan are one step away from famine.

It is the first time since the outbreak of the war that the warring leaders are visiting Saudi Arabia. Earlier talks in the Saudi port town of Jeddah, under auspices of the USA and Saudi Arabia, were attended by representatives of both sides but not by the two commanders. More than once, they agreed on a ceasefire that collapsed just as many times, often during the first hours of the truce. For this reason, the negotiations were suspended in early June. The talks resumed in July, to no avail.

The pan-Arabic newspaper Al Arab that brought the news today, said that is not yet clear “whether the two generals and former partners in the transitional government administration will hold direct discussions under the auspices of the Saudi Crown Prince, or whether they will be indirect discussions”.

The talks are expected to aim for a new ceasefire agreement and the establishment of a political roadmap between the two sides, the Arab Weekly, put out by Al Arab in London, reported.

“No details have been disclosed yet by Sudanese nor Saudi official sources about the unannounced visit, which comes after the halt of US-Saudi-sponsored Jeddah negotiations between belligerents,” the newspaper said. “The arrival of the two Sudanese figures in Saudi Arabia sends a positive signal about the possibility of a new stage that could usher in a ceasefire and set in motion preliminary steps towards a political settlement of the armed conflict.”

After his speech at the 78th session of the UN General Assembly in New York on September 21, El Burhan told the BBC that he was prepared to meet Hemedti. “We are ready to participate in negotiations,” he said.

Hemedti, in a video message addressed to the #UNGA78 on the same day, Hemedti, said that his forces were fully prepared for a ceasefire and comprehensive political talks to end the conflict.

War of attrition

An important factor for the arrival of the two commanders to Saudi Arabia could be the military setbacks suffered by the Sudanese army, especially in the capital, Khartoum, said Sudan experts. “This has apparently forced Burhan to return to the negotiating table, after his inability to settle the battle militarily in his favour,” the Arab Weekly stated.

Military expert Omar Rabbab yesterday confirmed this reading to Radio Dabanga yesterday. “The ceiling of the army’s victory, the expulsion of the RSF from Khartoum, could not be achieved, while the RSF is unable control any military area for three months. This forced the two parties to resort to artillery shelling, the air force, and drones,” he explained.

“The fighting between the army and the RSF started with ground clashes and later turned into aerial and artillery bombardments, while most wars begin with air and artillery bombardments, followed by ground attacks by infantry forces that step by step, occupying area by area, settles the battles.

“The current heavy bombing in Khartoum makes it clear that the war is still in its beginning, and this means a war of attrition,” the military expert said.

“This war between the SAF and the RSF war cannot be resolved militarily, as both sides cannot eliminate the other. There is no other way than to address the crisis at the negotiation table, in order to prevent further military escalation and even more losses.”