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Britain must keep up pressure to end conflict in Sudan


4 min read

The fighting that has erupted in Sudan is the result of a bitter power struggle between two generals, and while no one can say for sure who fired the first shot, international efforts to try and broker a ceasefire, at the time of writing, have proved unsuccessful.

This is not the first time that the country has seen a civil war of this sort. Following the long running conflict in Sudan between the north and the south, a peace agreement was signed in 2005. In a referendum in 2011, South Sudan voted to secede and to form a new independent country. However, the two main leaders of South Sudan then fell out with each other over who was going to be in charge and another bitter civil war erupted. The same thing is now happening in Sudan itself.

What Sudan really needs is an end to this cycle of military takeovers

The military men involved are Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the head of Sudan’s transitional governing sovereign council, and Gen Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (better known as Hemedti) who is deputy head of the council and leader of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

The generals know each other well, having been involved in fighting rebel groups in Darfur from 2003, which resulted in terrible attacks on civilian villages, led by the Janjaweed militia and Sudanese aircraft. Many died and about two million people were forced to flee their homes and take shelter in camps. The man ultimately behind this was General Omar al-Bashir who came to power in 1989, when he led a group of officers in a coup that ousted the democratically elected government. In 2009, he was indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. A decade later, after months of protests, he was finally removed in another coup. He remains under house arrest in Khartoum.

Following the coup, agreement was reached with the generals to form a civilian-led government, but in October 2021 the generals took power again, which brought us to the current conflict.

The consequences are very serious for the people of Sudan, which is one of the poorest countries in the world. Humanitarian supplies have been halted because of the fighting and the airport in the centre of Khartoum is out of action. One of the United Nations’ humanitarian aircraft was damaged there and three members of the World Food Programme have been killed in Darfur. People are trapped in their homes, hospitals have been shelled, a United States diplomatic convoy was attacked, the European Union ambassador to Sudan was assaulted in his own home and the head of the EU’s humanitarian agency has been shot and wounded. To date, around 200 people have died and nearly 2,000 have been wounded as both sides use tanks, artillery and heavy weapons indiscriminately in built-up areas.

Jan Egeland, who heads the Norwegian Refugee Council, has said that helping people is now becoming impossible. Even before the fighting started, there were 15.8 million people in need of humanitarian relief, but since then "virtually all humanitarian work has been paralysed".

The international community in the form of the United Nations, the US, the UK (as the Sudan ‘penholder’ at the UN) and the African Union have all been trying to put pressure on the two generals to stop. However, heavy fighting continued hours after an internationally-brokered humanitarian ceasefire was supposed to have come into effect. Both sides accused the other of violating the ceasefire agreement.

It is vital that the international community keeps up the pressure to put an end to the fighting because without this it will be very hard to get relief supplies in and to help communities that have been affected. But what Sudan really needs is an end to this cycle of military takeovers, and the establishment of a stable civilian government to take the country forward.

That day cannot come soon enough.


Hilary Benn, Labour MP for Leeds Central, former international development secretary and led the UK delegation to the Darfur Peace talks in Abuja in 2006

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