Kenya says it has shut down its embassy in Khartoum to protect staff, in what could close the door on any further evacuation for civilians and signal bad days ahead in the Sudan war.
Kenya’s Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Korir Sing’oei said on Monday that Nairobi’s diplomats in Khartoum were facing safety risks, forcing the government to close the embassy, and upending Kenya’s initial policy of staying around to help pursue peace.
“We continue to receive disturbing news of the targeting of diplomatic officials by armed groups in Khartoum, Sudan,” he wrote on Twitter.
“[The] Kenya Mission in Khartoum which had remained open to facilitate evacuation of any Kenyans still in the country is now closed,” he added.
After war broke out on April 15, Kenya said it had helped rescue as many as 900 nationals plus those of other countries trapped in Khartoum. But officials said they would not close down the embassy as part of efforts to stay in contact with warring parties; the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF).
At a press briefing with his host Antony Blinken in Washington, Kenya’s Foreign Affairs and Diaspora Cabinet Secretary Alfred Mutua had said Kenya’s embassy would remain open as part of regional efforts to have parties descalate.
“As an African continent and the AU and intergovernmental organisation called IGAD, we are trying to find solutions for Sudan. I know you’ve pulled your teams out. Kenya is not pulling its diplomatic offices. We’re not shutting them down because we want to have a presence as we negotiate,” Mutua had said on April 24.
This move may both reflect the escalating violence in Khartoum and the failure to have parties, at least respect a ceasefire. There have been six ceasefire deals between the SAF led by Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his nemesis Mohamed Daglo Hemedti. In all occasions, fighting continued. By Monday, UN agencies estimated that more than 1000 people had been killed and over 800,000 displaced, either internally or forced to neighbouring countries for refuge.
Last week, a mediation project pursued by Saudi Arabia and the US, and known as the Jeddah Talks, was suspended after the US labelled the parties unserious to end the war.
On Monday, however, mediators in Jeddah said they were still engaging parties to see how to resume.
Despite the formal pause on June 3 of the five-day ceasefire agreement, a statement from Jeddah said, “facilitators continue to engage them daily.”
“Those discussions are focused on facilitating humanitarian assistance and reaching agreement on near-term steps the parties must take before the Jeddah talks resume.
“Facilitators stand ready to resume formal talks and remind the parties that they must implement their obligations under the May 11 Jeddah Declaration of Commitment to Protect the Civilians of Sudan.”
Saudi Arabia’s influence on the warring parties in Sudan was always seen as a crucial tool to help end the war. But the fact that fighting continued even after ceasefire has illustrated a possible breakdown in command structures.
Back in April, Dr Mutua blamed unnamed Middle East countries for taking sides, and fueling the war.
“We have been quite concerned by some of our friends in the Middle East as (inaudible) Russia and others who for a long time have been friendly to either one or the other side. And we are just saying that at this particular time, it is not a time to take sides in a war,” he said on April 24.
“We care about Sudan. As part of the African Union, we want to silence the guns in Sudan, want to find an African solution to African problems with the support of our friends. But we can’t effectively do that if we are talking to groups that are being strengthened every day by the parties who believe that all they need to do is to fight to the end.”
Last week, the African Union launched its ‘roadmap’ to attempt peace in Sudan by involving more political and civilian movements. It is yet to gain traction.