(CN) — Five days into diplomatic negotiations on the conflict in Sudan that has led to more than 600 deaths since April, the absence of a civilian perspective in negotiations backed by the U.S. and Saudi Arabia is casting doubt on what measure of peace they can broker.
“We have continued to negotiate with the men with guns, giving them a kind of legitimacy they do not deserve,” said Eric Reeves, a professor emeritus at Smith College who has been studying Sudan for nearly a quarter-century. “The talks themselves are a farce.”
Representatives for the warring Sudanese Army (SAF) and Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary have been meeting since Saturday in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to establish a ceasefire and facilitate humanitarian aid. Before stepping in with Saudi Arabia to facilitate the negotiations, however, the U.S. was among Western nations whose efforts to broker a civilian government transition for Sudan unraveled last month into the still-ongoing carnage.
“I don’t think there is any game plan in the State Department or anywhere else in the U.S. government for how to effect a transition to civilian government,” Reeves said in a phone interview. “We’re just giving lip service to it.”
The U.S. largely evacuated its personnel from Sudan almost three weeks ago, as did other countries, and the State Department has facilitated the departure of more than 2,000 people from the country since that time.
Muzan Alneel, a Sudanese activist who fled Khartoum last week for Port Sudan, said the U.S. shares blame for the situation and isn’t supporting a lasting peace by excluding civilian representatives from the talks in Jeddah.
“I’m not following what the international community is doing. I think it’s a waste of time,” she said by phone Wednesday. “The people of Sudan are taking charge of their own resources.”
Alneel said the United States has long failed to adequately support democracy in Sudan.
“We cannot just draw a line and say they’ve messed up since the coup,” she said. “They’ve been messing up for a long time.”
Mohamed Osman, executive director of Alberdi, a human rights organization based in Sudan, similarly said the negotiations are just “wasting time.” He said it is a ploy for the SAF and RSF to solidify their military positions.
“These parties of the conflict, they are just reinforcing themselves and want time to reinforce themselves so they just accepted the negotiations,” he said by phone Wednesday from Uganda. “I don’t think they just went to that site to get a real ceasefire or a real agreement”
Amgad Fareid Eltayeb, who served as chief of staff to former Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok during the transition, wrote in a column this week that the talks “may have been founded on good intentions, but [are] riddled with deficiencies and defects that render it absurd.”
Without civilian leadership in negotiations, Eltayeb predicted the talks could only generate “another power-sharing deal or short-term understanding that was behind the causation of this war in the first place.”
“The US steered discussions by favouring certain civilian political actors and individuals and giving them the monopoly of representing the civil movement in Sudan,” he wrote. “But upon discovering its grave mistake, its tactic has been to gloss over it, and not engage the civilians at all, without considering for a minute how this approach is handing the country to the realm of the military and cementing it.”
Despite several announced ceasefires that have been touted by the State Department, Osman and Alneel said the fighting has never stopped.
“If the U.S. government or the Western governments are just trying to connect with these armies, they cannot stop this,” Osman said. “They have to find a way to talk to those civilians who were a part of the negotiations before this war.”