The United Nations envoy to Sudan, a key mediator in the country’s brutal conflict, is no longer welcome in the African country, Sudanese authorities say, as the warring sides agreed to a new 24-hour cease-fire.
A terse statement issued by Sudan’s Foreign Ministry late Thursday comes just weeks after the head of the country’s military, Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan, demanded in a letter to envoy Volker Perthes that he should be removed from his post.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has been notified that Perthes has been formally declared “persona non grata,” the Foreign Ministry said.
Since Apr. 15, Sudan’s military, headed by Burhan, and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, led by Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, have been locked in a violent power struggle that has killed more than 860 civilians, according to Sudan’s Doctors’ Syndicate which tracks civilian casualties. The actual death tally is likely to be much higher.
Later Friday, the military and the RSF agreed to a new 24-hour cease-fire set to start Saturday at 6 a.m. Sudan time, Saudi Arabia and the U.S. said in a joint statement published by the state-run Saudi Press Agency. The daylong truce, brokered by Washington and Riyadh, will be the conflict’s eighth cease-fire deal. All past agreements have foundered.
Last week, the two mediating nations suspended formal peace talks that had been taking place in the Saudi coastal city of Jeddah since late May, accusing both sides of repeated cease-fire violations. That same day, Washington announced the imposition of sanctions against key defense companies tied to the military and the RSF, along with visa restrictions.
Despite the breakdown, Washington and Riyadh said they have remained in contact with representatives from both forces in the hope of reviving formal peace talks.
Perthes has been a key mediator in Sudan since being appointed as special envoy in 2021, first during the country’s failed attempts to transition to democracy and then as relations between the military and the RSF deteriorated. Fighting exploded in April.
Perthes’ native Germany condemned the announcement.
“The international community, including the German government, continues to stand fully behind Mr. Perthes and his efforts,” said Andrea Sasse, spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry, in Berlin on Friday.
She said Perthes will continue to do his job from Kenya, from where he is supporting efforts in Jeddah to get the warring parties to the table and secure a cease-fire.
Perthes was in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, on Thursday meeting representatives from the African Union and the eight-nation eastern Africa bloc known as IGAD. Neither the UN nor Perthes immediately commented on the decision.
In recent months, the German diplomat has received death threats and numerous calls to resign. In his letter last month, Burhan accused Perthes of “being partisan,” and negatively contributing to pre-war talks between the generals and pro-democracy groups in the weeks building up to the conflict.
Responding to these allegations, Perthes told The Associated Press that those who threatened him were marginal “extremists” and that there is a wide appreciation of UN efforts in Sudan, which has relocated its headquarters to the coastal city of Port Sudan.
The conflict between the two generals has reduced Khartoum to an urban battlefield, with many districts of the city without running water or electricity. There have been reports of widespread looting and sexual violence, including the rape of women and girls in Khartoum and the western Darfur region, which have seen some of the worst fighting in the conflict. Almost all reported cases of sexual attacks were blamed on the RSF, which didn’t respond to repeated requests for comment.
On Wednesday, 297 children were rescued from an orphanage in Sudan’s capital after being trapped there while fighting raged outside, UNICEF said. The evacuation came after 71 children died from hunger and illness in the facility since mid-April.
According to Shabia Mantoo, a spokesperson for the U.N. refugee agency, almost 2 million people have been displaced by the conflict. Of those, about 1.42 million are displaced within Sudan and some 451,000 have left the country, including refugees from South Sudan who have returned home, she said during a presser in Geneva on Friday.
Meanwhile, the global humanitarian aid group, Mercy Corps, warned the conflict could trigger a catastrophic food crisis and disease outbreaks in the coming months. June marks the beginning of Sudan’s three-month rainy season, in which scores of people were killed last year.
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