Clashes have subsided in Sudan as East African leaders get ready for January 18th summit!

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SAF forces in Dilling in South Kordofan, Sudan after an RSF attack also involving janjaweed. Increased ethnic fighting is feared

Clashes have subsided in Sudan as East African leaders gear up for a summit in Uganda on January 18th, aiming to address the crisis in Sudan.

The Sudan Armed Forces and their adversaries, the Rapid Support Forces, are in a period of reinforcing their positions, getting ready for possible future conflicts in new regions of Sudan.The IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority on Development) bloc in East Africa, which encompasses countries such as Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Djibouti, has stepped up to mediate the conflict in Sudan.

This follows a decline in diplomatic efforts from Western countries and Saudi Arabia after the onset of hostilities in Gaza. IGAD announced significant progress at a summit in Djibouti on December 9th.

However, since then, both conflicting parties in Sudan have retracted their commitments, leading to increased fighting in mid-December, which has recently eased off.

Recently, the diplomatic attempts by IGAD have hit a roadblock, failing repeatedly to convene a direct meeting between the leaders of the two conflicting parties in Sudan.

IGAD’s method, characterised by high-profile diplomatic engagements by key state leaders like Kenya’s President William Ruto and Djibouti’s President Ismaïl Omar Guellé, is in contrast with the diplomatic process employed by the United States and Saudi Arabia.

Last year, these countries facilitated several rounds of discreet, mostly private discussions with lower-level delegations from both sides in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.The meeting, originally set for December 28 and expected to be attended by both RSF leader Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo and Sudan Armed Forces leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, was called off after Dagalo did not show up, choosing to conduct his own diplomatic tour.

Dagalo’s reception in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Uganda has caused a rift in relations between Sudan and the East African bloc. The Sudanese foreign ministry has declared that it will halt its interactions with IGAD, protesting Dagalo’s presence at the forthcoming Kampala summit.

Sudan’s ruling military junta’s top body, the sovereignty council, announced that Al-Burhan would not be attending the summit.

They stated on January 13: ‘We continued to deal positively with all initiatives, especially IGAD’s efforts to reach peace in Sudan. However, IGAD did not commit to implementing the outcomes of the last summit in Djibouti… and did not provide a convincing justification for cancelling the meeting that IGAD called for December 28, 2023, under the pretext that the rebel leader (Dagalo) was unable to attend for technical reasons while he was touring a number of IGAD countries on the same date.

‘The Sudanese government believes that there is no need to hold a summit to discuss Sudan before implementing the outcomes of the previous summit.

‘We renew our affirmation that what is going on in Sudan is an internal matter and that our response to regional initiatives does not mean giving up our sovereign right to solve the Sudan problem by Sudanese.’

Dagalo, in his role as a statesman, claims a commitment to peace in Sudan. He issued a statement saying: ‘I would like to emphasise the commitment of the Rapid Support Forces to negotiations, dialogue, and peace with the objective of charting a new and better future of Sudan… We expect the same level of commitment from our counterparts.’

Expected to attend Thursday’s summit is a coalition of civilian politicians, known as Tagaddum, headed by ex-Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok.

The security situation across much of Sudan’s Kordofan region, alongside economic and humanitarian conditions, is deteriorating, especially following a recent attack by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) on the city of Dilling two days ago.

Although the conflict in Dilling itself has reportedly calmed, political analysts and humanitarian groups warn of the increasing risk of a humanitarian disaster and ethnic conflict.

Dilling is home to both Nuba and Arab tribes.

William Carter, the Country Director of the Norwegian Refugee Council in Sudan, expressed on the social media site X (formerly Twitter) today, ‘We’re gravely concerned that another city in Sudan, Dilling in South Kordofan, is in terrible peril, due to armed conflict between three powerful warring parties.

‘Over the past few days, thousands of residents have been forced to leave, although the city is now surrounded by these military, paramilitary, and rebel forces and some are unable to flee. A looming threat of ethnic violence hangs over Dilling and beyond.’

Two bodies were displayed with chains in Dilling’s central square on Wednesday afternoon, stripped half-naked. One was hung by the neck, and the other by the feet, upside down.

A man who filmed the scene commented, as reviewed by Sudan War Monitor: ‘Dilling is the graveyard of the janjaweed. The number of janjaweed animals that we killed was 47 in the battle of Dilling today, January 10.

‘See how your people are crucified? Any janjaweed mercenary who enters this land will meet the same fate.’

This incident follows a similar display in the same place last weekend, where an alleged traitor from the Sudan Armed Forces was hanged upside down, reportedly in retaliation for an RSF attack on the nearby town of Habila.

Fadlallah Burma Nasir, head of the National Umma Party, as quoted by Al-Taghyeer newspaper, reflected on the Dilling incident: ‘Burma considered what happened in Dilling in South Kordofan state the beginning of the dismantling of Sudan, and pointed out that it was the result of Burhan and Hemedti’s war and ethnic mobilisation.’

In his statements to Al-Taghyeer, he condemned ethnic and tribal conflicts and emphasised his party’s resistance to attempts to tear Sudan apart.

He added: ‘Despite the history of wars that exceed 50 years in Sudan, the crucifixion incident that occurred in Dilling is something that happens for the first time and is a dangerous development.’

The RSF’s attack on Dilling may have been sparked by earlier skirmishes in the city’s western neighbourhoods, predominantly inhabited by Arabs.

Reports last month indicated displacement from these neighbourhoods, including the burning of homes in the Abu Zeid area. Over the past few days, the armed clashes have been concentrated in the neighbourhoods of Abu Zeid, Al-Maasir, and Al-Safa, which are located in the western part of the city of Dilling, and are inhabited by groups of the Arab component, especially the Hawazma tribe, many of whose members are in the ranks of the Rapid Support Forces.

Witnesses told Ayin that military forces attacked these neighbourhoods after RSF members infiltrated them, causing the displacement of hundreds to areas like Al-Goz, Al Debeibat, and El Obeid. There are fears that the conflict could escalate into a tribal war in Dilling, while residents are leaving the city amid army commanders’ pleas to stay.

Similarly, Al-Taghyeer reported: ‘According to eyewitnesses, a large number of citizens’ homes in the al-Goz, al-Matar, and Abu Zeid neighbourhoods, which are areas specific to the Hawazma tribe, were completely burned down.’

Following Wednesday’s fighting, Abdul Wahab Azraq, a journalist in Dilling noted: ‘Dilling is living in a state of calm.’ He noted that the Sudan Armed Forces and the SPLM-North, fighting side by side, ‘achieved a major victory over the attacking forces, killing dozens and destroying many vehicles’. According to Abdul Wahab, the attackers used about 60 combat vehicles and the battle lasted around two hours before the RSF withdrew towards al-Debeibat, a town 60 km north of Dilling.

This cooperation between the SPLM-N and SAF in Dilling marks a potentially unprecedented alliance. Politically, SPLM-N remains neutral in the ongoing war between the army and RSF, but ethnically, their troops share more similarities with the army, including many Nuba fighters. The commander of the Dilling garrison is reportedly Nuba, contrasting with the predominantly Arab composition of the RSF.

Due to telecommunications outages in Kordofan, information from Dilling and other areas is limited. Reports on social media yesterday indicated that some residents have started returning home, while patients in hospitals are being relocated. A number of civilians were injured by a shell at the Dilling mosque and sought treatment at the military hospital.

There have also been reports of airstrikes and reconnaissance aircraft flying over Dilling.

Civilians seeking to leave Dilling face limited options due to hazardous roads, lack of fuel, and regional shortages in electricity, food, and medical services. El Obeid Hospital has exhausted its supply of oxygen and other essential medicines, while the cost of bread has surged.