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Weeklong ceasefire in Sudan starts Monday night

After weeks of bloodshed, negotiators in the U.S. and Saudi Arabia tout the agreement as a major step toward peace.

(CN) — Eleven days after announcing a commitment to humanitarian aid, the warring factions in Sudan began a weeklong ceasefire on Monday night.

Sponsored by the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, negotiations in support of the ceasefire have been underway in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, since May 6 as regional and international leaders try to get a handle on the deepening crisis. Roughly a month earlier, Western governments largely evacuated their personnel from Sudan after an agreement they brokered to transition the African nation to a civilian government unraveled at the eleventh hour.

The seven-day window for the ceasefire opened at 9:45 p.m., local time, according to the Saturday announcement. Negotiators say representatives from the warring Sudanese Army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces have also agreed to facilitate delivery and distribution of humanitarian assistance, restore essential services, and withdraw from hospitals and public facilities.

“We believe this was an important agreement,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a briefing Monday. “These are all important steps to the Sudanese people.”

The State Department noted that Secretary of State Antony Blinken had spoken with the Sudanese Army's leader, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, ahead of Saturday's announcement. A summary of the call says Blinken “urged flexibility and leadership” and “again condemned the violence by both parties that has resulted in the death and injury of many Sudanese civilians.”

Officials have not reported any direct communications between Blinken and Lieutenant General Mohamed Hamdan, who heads the Rapid Support Forces.

Both sides have violated the many announced ceasefires since fighting broke out, but in a joint statement the U.S. and Saudi Arabia noted this agreement will be internationally monitored. The State Department previously said the monitoring will include satellite data, thermal imagery, social media analysis and on-the-ground reporting.

“This short-term ceasefire is in line with the step-by-step approach agreed [to] by the parties,” according to the statement. “It is anticipated that subsequent talks will focus on additional steps necessary to improve security and humanitarian conditions for civilians such as vacating forces from urban centers, including civilian homes, accelerating removal of impediments to the free movement of civilians and humanitarian actors, and enabling public servants to resume their regular duties.”

Civilian representatives have been critical of international players for leaving them out of the negotiations. In Saturday’s announcement, officials said the talks “are not a political process and should not be perceived as one.”

“We anticipate that subsequent talks in Jeddah will address steps needed to reach a permanent cessation of hostilities,” the statement notes. “We look forward to leadership by Sudanese civilian stakeholders, with the support of the regional and international community, on a political process to resume a democratic transition and form a civilian government.”

The conflict can be directly traced to 2019, when President Omar al-Bashir, who held power for 30 years, was ousted in a popular uprising that 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. 

The military leaders had been expected to hand over power to civilian leadership in an internationally brokered deal, but the plan fell apart when a power struggle erupted on April 15 over disagreements about the integration of the RSF into the army.

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