Atrocities overshadow Burhan’s shuttle diplomacy

Monday September 18 2023

President of Sudan's Transitional Sovereignty Council General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan boards an airplane at Port Sudan airport, heading to South Sudan on September 4, 2023. PHOTO | AFP


Sudan military leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan’s bid to seek international support and isolate his rivals in the Rapid Support Forces is being undermined by tales of atrocities back home, signaling an endless war.

This week, Lt-Gen Burhan travelled to Ankara where he met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Ergogan, making it his fifth trip abroad since the war erupted in April. Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan said the two had discussed international efforts for a permanent truce between the warring parties, and humanitarian response for which he said Turkey supports.

But his trip was punctuated by violence reports back home. At least 40 civilians were killed in an air raid on the western region of Darfur on Wednesday, the same day Burhan visited Turkey.

Read: About 40 killed in Darfur as Sudan army chief visits Turkey

Witnesses in the area had earlier reported air strikes falling on two markets and causing civilian casualties in Sudan's second-biggest city, where fighting intensified last month, according to an AFP report.

US State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller said Washington was alarmed by the indiscriminate air and artillery strikes in Sudan, including in Khartoum, South Darfur, and South Kordofan states.


“We are particularly concerned with the reported Sudanese Armed Forces (Saf) September 10 air strike in southern Khartoum that killed at least 43 people, the August 23 shelling exchange between SAF and Rapid Support Forces (RSF) that killed at least 27 people — most of them women and children — in Nyala and continued shelling in a number of areas, including with the use of barrel bombs,” he said on Wednesday.

“Both parties have instigated unrelenting violence that has caused death and destruction across Sudan. As we have said before, both parties must comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law, including obligations related to the protection of civilians.

Yet on the same day, the UN Security Council held an open briefing, and a closed consultation, on Sudan, coming amid Sudanese protestations against the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Sudan, Mr Volker Perthes, for alleged bias. Mr Perthes resigned on Wednesday during the session, but warned both sides were not backing down on the war, potentially leading to “a full-scale civil war.”

Read: UN special envoy to Sudan resigns after friction

Perthes turned to the Council “to impress on the warring parties that they cannot operate with impunity, and there will be accountability for the crimes committed”.

“Both sides are arbitrarily arresting, detaining, and even torturing civilians and there are reports of extrajudicial killings,” he said.

“Let me be clear, for the benefit of history, that regardless of who fired the first shot, both sides were clearly setting the stage for war. The warring parties chose to settle their conflict through fighting, and it is their duty to the Sudanese people to end it.”

Rights groups have accused global leaders of sitting on their hands about Sudan, letting the violence to pan out. At least 4,000 people have been killed, according to Sudanese authorities.

Tirana Hassan, the Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, said Sudanese disaster was unfolding before world eyes.

In the face of mounting atrocities in Sudan, the Security Council has neglected its responsibility to robustly respond,” said Tirana Hassan, executive director of Human Rights Watch.

“The world’s foremost body on international peace and security should not remain silent in the face of grave international crimes.”

“In the past few months, we’ve seen the refugee camps where we work in Chad swell with people forced from their homes,” added Mark Hetfield, president and CEO of the refugee protection organisation HIAS.

“Darfuris are arriving hungry, wounded, and traumatised. They need urgent assistance and protection, but they also need the world to mobilise for an end to the targeted violence that is causing so much death, devastation, and displacement across Sudan.” Some aid organisations have also reported sexual violence and mass graves in the area.

Burhan is expected to address the UN General Assembly later this week, using the platform for the first time since he toppled the country’s transitional civilian government of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok two years ago.

Read: Burhan’s shuttle diplomacy to pledge Sudan peace, clear RSF

On Monday, Burhan toured Asmara, Eritrea where he met with President Isaias Afwerki, a longtime ally. A dispatch from Asmara said they discussed “bilateral ties and efforts for peace in Sudan.” Afwerki had publicly backed Burhan’s junta, long before the war erupted in April, arguing Sudan needed to stabilise before transitioning to a democracy. He reiterated this stance on Monday.

But Burhan has been tactical, avoiding those who don’t want to legitimise his junta by equating him to his rival Daglo. He has toured South Sudan, Egypt and Qatar; the other allies in this battle. He has avoided Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti; whom he publicly lampooned for forming a ‘quartet’ of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad), a regional bloc to which Sudan and seven others belong.

The quartet includes Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti and South Sudan. Khartoum has refused Kenya’s role, stalling any mediation plans. Instead, the quartet has suggested consolidation of peace bids by other parties, under the African Union which also suspended Sudan in October 2021, after the coup.

Foreign Affairs Minister Ali al-Sadiq said Khartoum considered the quartet a form of interference.

“The question is what mandate does the Quartet itself have to mandate others in matters concerning an independent, sovereign country and a full member of the United Nations? How can the alleged political process be owned by the Sudanese, while they do not determine its rules and foundations?” he posed on Saturday.

“It is regretted and discrediting Igad that the Communique of the Quartet failed to mention any of the horrific atrocities committed by the rebel militia. These atrocities have been condemned by the entire world except Igad and the African Union.”

Read: Igad quartet proposes unified peace bid on Sudan

Burhan, meanwhile, has amassed some support. On Thursday last week, Burhan visited Doha, Qatar, his third trip outside of Sudan in a week.

In Doha, he discussed “discussed the latest developments in the situation and challenges facing Sudan” with Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, a dispatch said.

Burhan has visited Egypt and South Sudan in the other two trips since august 30. In Qatar, he was assured of support to end the conflict. In Egypt, he received the same support on August 30 but he did pledge to bring peace to Sudan as long as warring rivals lay down the arms.

In South Sudan, Burhan used the stage to remind the region that Juba is the preferred mediator in the conflict.

Ali al-Sadiq, the Sudanese Foreign Minister told a press briefing on September 5 that Khartoum believes Juba is best placed to help the country.