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Protracted fighting in Sudan triggers US sanctions, visa restrictions

The Sudanese Army pulled out of ceasefire negotiations Wednesday, deepening concerns of an enduring conflict.

WASHINGTON (CN) — The White House is imposing sanctions on Sudan, on top of visa restrictions, in response to a breakdown in ceasefire negotiations as international players appear to be losing their already tenuous grasp on the conflict.

A ceasefire between the warring Sudanese Army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary was supposed to hold all of last week, but the multiple violations that occurred on both sides led the army to pull out of talks on Wednesday, saying the RSF wasn’t committed to terms of a ceasefire.

As talks broke down, observers worried about what could become a regional crisis. Both the United States and Saudi Arabia have been coordinating negotiations since May 6 to end bloodshed that has plagued the region since April 15.

“If Sudan disintegrates as a state, as now appears increasingly likely, that’s going to have a tremendous effect on the seven countries it borders,” said Eric Reeves, a professor emeritus at Smith College who has been studying Sudan for nearly a quarter-century.

The State Department estimates that 840,000 people have been displaced within Sudan, and another 250,000 have fled the country since fighting broke out. At least 883 civilians have been killed, but the number is likely much higher.

Some of the heaviest fighting has been in the capital of Khartoum, a city of nearly 700,000 people before the conflict. But the battle has also spread to Darfur, where tribal militias have reportedly joined the fighting, raising concerns over a proliferation of violence with no end in sight.

“The failure of the Sudanese Armed Forces and Rapid Support Forces to abide by the ceasefire only further deepens our concern that the people of Sudan will once again face a protracted conflict and widespread suffering at the hands of the security forces,” President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said in a press release. “The United States will continue to do everything we can to prevent that from happening.”

The Sudanese toppled the 30-year regime of President Omar al-Bashir when a popular uprising in 2019 gained support from the military and the Rapid Support Forces. The army and RSF shared power with civilian leaders in a transitional government for two years before ousting the civilians. 

Western governments brokered an agreement to transition the African nation to a civilian government this past spring, but it unraveled at the eleventh hour over the proposed integration of the paramilitary into the army.

“The Sudanese people did not ask for this war,” Sullivan said. “The United States will continue to stand with them. We will continue to support their rightful demand for a transition to democracy.”

It is unclear who will face visa restrictions under the actions taken Thursday. The State Department has said only that it will be officials from the army, RSF and the former al-Bashir regime.

The Treasury Department is freezing U.S.-based assets and prohibiting business with several companies tied to the warring parties. Officials designated Al Junaid, an RSF-affiliated gold mining company; Tradive General Trading, used by the RSF for equipment; and the Sudanese government-controlled Sudan Master Technology and Defense Industries System, which produce weapons and technology for the army.

In pulling out of negotiations, Army General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan seems dedicated to a long conflict.

"We do not want to use lethal force. We still haven't used our maximum strength ... We don't want to destroy the country," Burhan said in a military video released on Tuesday. "But if the enemy does not obey and does not respond we will be forced to use the strongest force we have."

Reeves said economic sanctions won’t put much pressure on either al-Burhan or RSF leader Lieutenant General Mohamed Hamdan, known as Hemedti, because they have wealth outside of the United States’ reach.

“The problem about sanctions is they only work if you can squeeze either man financially,” he said. “It does not seem to me that the international community is doing anything meaningful.”

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Categories / Government, International, Politics

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