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Guterres calls for ‘immediate’ ceasefire in Sudan, as death toll mounts

Smoke rises following a bombing in the  Al-Tayif neighbourhood of Khartoum, Sudan.
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Smoke rises following a bombing in the Al-Tayif neighbourhood of Khartoum, Sudan.

Guterres calls for ‘immediate’ ceasefire in Sudan, as death toll mounts

Peace and Security

Clashes intensified across Sudan on Monday, as top UN officials urged rival military factions to protect civilians and respect the country’s international obligations.

“I strongly condemn the outbreak of fighting that is taking place in Sudan and appeal to the leaders of the Rapid Support Forces (RAF) and the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) to immediately cease hostilities, restore calm, and begin a dialogue to resolve the crisis,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said on Monday.

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Following the deaths of three employees of the UN World Food Programme (WFP) in the restive Darfur region amid widespread fighting, he called for those responsible to be brought to justice without delay.

‘Horrendous’ loss of life

“The situation has already led to horrendous loss of life, including many civilians,” the UN chief said, ahead of delivering opening remarks at a UN Forum on Financing for Development.

He urged all those with influence over the deteriorating situation to press for peace, and support efforts to end the violence, restore order, and return to the path of transition.

Rising death toll

More than 180 people have been killed and 1,800 injured, some UN facilities have been looted and destroyed, and some non-essential staff will have to be evacuated, said the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Sudan, Volker Perthes, speaking to reporters early Monday afternoon at UN Headquarters via video from Khartoum.

Fighting is going on almost uninterrupted,” he said. “I have made efforts to convince the leaders of both sides to hold fire for a humanitarian pause for a few hours to make it possible for the Sudanese to go to safer places or get supplies for Ramadan or go to the hospital.”

In constant contact with leaders of both sides, he said he is currently trying to cement a daily three-hour humanitarian ceasefire. While the parties had agreed on Sunday and again on Monday for such a pause, fighting had resumed before the end of the ceasefire, he said.

The two sides “are not giving us the impression that they want mediation right away,” he said. “Rather, they are calling on the other side to surrender or disband.”

‘We will do our utmost’

“I do not hear too much noise right now, but it is also prayer time,” the Special Representative said, calling on both sides to stop fighting immediately to allow access for aid workers and strongly requesting both sides to respect the need to protect UN facilities, embassies, aid workers and medical premises.

“We will have to evacuate some of our non-essential staff and relatives,” he said. “But, we will do our utmost to serve the Sudanese people. We will stay and deliver to the extent that we can.”

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‘Grave transgressions’

“There have been grave transgressions here,” Mr. Perthes said. WFP, UNICEF, UNDP, and UNHCR guest houses and offices have “come into the crossfire”, all being looted and destroyed by men with arms in Darfur in the last 48 hours, he said.

“No one can get in or get out” of Sudan, he said. “We cannot deliver when our staff is attacked and their offices are destroyed and looted and residences are on fire.”

UN halts many operations

UN spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric said on Monday afternoon that “hostilities will only hamper our humanitarian response efforts at a time when needs are at an all-time high in Sudan."

“We currently have no access into or out of the country, with the borders and airport remaining closed,” Mr. Dujarric said, stressing that the UN has been forced to temporarily halt much of its operations due to the fighting.

The crossfire at Khartoum airport has damaged a UN plane, potentially seriously impacting the ability to reach remote parts of the Sudan, where needs are highest, he said. Currently, 3.7 million people are displaced in Sudan, he said.

Clashes in capital spread

The crisis began with armed clashes on Saturday, between forces from the SAF, loyal to the head of the military government, and those of his deputy. who leads the paramilitary RAF.

Skirmishes led to widespread fighting between RSF and SAF forces across the capital Khartoum and surrounding areas.

Since then, rising numbers of casualties have been reported across Khartoum, South Kordofan, North Darfur, Northern State and other regions, with the heaviest concentration of fighting taking place in Khartoum, the World Health Organization (WHO) said in a statement released on Sunday.

Movement in the city is restricted due to the insecurity, creating challenges for doctors, nurses, patients and ambulances to reach health facilities, and putting at risk the lives of those who need urgent medical care,” WHO said, calling for protecting health workers and patients and urging parties to respect the neutrality of healthcare.

Media reports said fighter jets had fired multiple rockets on Sunday into Khartoum, home to more than 6 million people, and that the RSF had claimed that it had taken control of Khartoum international airport, Merowe airport, al-Obeid airport and the presidential palace in the capital.

An independent Sudanese military force, the RSF evolved from the Janjaweed militia, formerly active in Sudan’s Darfur region, and has been involved in talks aimed at a transition to a civilian government from the military rule in place since the 2021 military coup.

Urgent calls to pause fighting

The trilateral mechanism, comprising the African Union, the Intergovernmental Authority (IGAD) and the UN, urged parties to adhere to a humanitarian pause that would guarantee safety for civilians, the UN spokesman said on Monday.

Meanwhile, 10 UN agencies and more than 80 non-governmental organizations have been running more than 250 programmes in Sudan, he said, adding that UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths declared that he was “horrified” by the deaths and looting of aid, adding that “it is crucial for the fighting to stop so we can resume our efforts to help those who need it the most.”

Csaba Kőrösi, President of the General Assembly, echoed that call.

Any further escalations will have devastating effects on the country and the region,” he said.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said de-escalation of the situation is urgently needed.

“We are deeply concerned about the safety and security of civilians in the areas affected by the fighting, including refugees and internally displaced people,” the agency said, calling for all parties to protect civilians, including refugees and displaced people, and to respect the safety of humanitarian staff so that critical aid can be delivered.

‘Catastrophic’ humanitarian situation

UN chief Guterres said the already precarious humanitarian situation in Sudan is “now catastrophic”.

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The UN food agency estimates that one third of Sudan’s population, or some 15 million people, face acute food insecurity. Meanwhile, WFP’s operations in the country are temporarily on hold, as the agency said that threats to its teams make it impossible for them to operate safely and effectively.

“I am appalled and heartbroken by the tragic deaths of three WFP employees on Saturday 15 April in violence in Kabkabiya, North Darfur while carrying out their life-saving duties on the front lines of the global hunger crisis,” said WFP chief Cindy McCain in a statement on Sunday.

“Any loss of life in humanitarian service is unacceptable and I demand immediate steps to guarantee the safety of those who remain,” she urged. “Aid workers are neutral and should never be a target. Threats to our teams make it impossible to operate safely and effectively in the country and carry out WFP’s critical work.”

Engaging with parties

Condemning the deaths and injuries to civilians and humanitarian workers and the targeting and looting of premises, Mr. Guterres reminded all parties of the need to respect international law, including ensuring the safety and security of all UN and associated personnel, and humanitarian aid workers.

“I am engaging with leaders across the region,” he said, reaffirming that the UN stands with the people of Sudan at this very difficult time, with full support for their efforts to restore the democratic transition and build a peaceful, secure future.

Shortages of life-saving medical supplies

WHO warned that supplies it distributed to health facilities prior to the recent escalation of conflict “are now exhausted”.

Many of the nine hospitals in Khartoum receiving injured civilians are reporting shortages of blood, transfusion equipment, intravenous fluids, medical supplies and other life-saving commodities, WHO said.

Reports indicate shortages of specialized medical personnel, and water and electricity cuts are affecting operations at health facilities, while hospital generators are running short of fuel, WHO said.

As the situation evolves, WHO will continue to work with partners and health authorities to fill gaps in the provision of healthcare, especially for trauma care, while also ensuring the safety of staff and their families, the agency said.

‘Chaotic, fast-moving situation’

“It’s still a chaotic, fast-moving situation,” Dr. Richard Brennan, regional emergency director for the WHO Eastern Mediterranean, told UN News.

“What we’re seeing right now is a deeply disturbing development,” he said, adding that current casualty estimates “are likely an underestimate”.

Gross violations unfolding

Up to three medical staff have been killed and armed forces have attacked several health facilities, occupying them to use as bases for further attacks.

“These types of developments are a gross, a very gross, violation of international humanitarian law,” he said.

WHO has already repositioned trauma supplies and other medical goods in hospitals in Khartoum and several of the other states, “but, frankly the level of need has exceeded what we had originally anticipated”, he said.

Message to fighting parties

Sending a message to the fighting parties, he asked them to respect the neutrality of health facilities, refrain from targeting them, and vacate the hospitals they are occupying.

“We absolutely need to ensure that patients, medical staff, logistics mechanisms, and supplying hospitals have access to the health facilities,” he said. “We want a peaceful resolution to the conflict as soon as possible.”