Fighting ticks up ahead of New York meetings
Al-Burhan prepares to address the United Nations General Assembly
The Rapid Support Forces (RSF) pressed for military advantage in central Khartoum today ahead of what could be a frustrating few days for them politically, with the United Nations General Assembly underway in New York.
Sudan’s army commander-in-chief, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, departed for New York early Wednesday and is scheduled to participate in meetings on the sidelines of the General Assembly and address the global body on Thursday, upstaging his rival Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, aka “Hemedti,” the leader of the RSF.
In the battle for international and domestic legitimacy and recognition, Hemedti has scored few recent wins even as al-Burhan toured the Middle East and East Africa, most recently meeting Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and Turkey’s Recep Erdoğan. Domestically, al-Burhan yesterday visited a market in Merowe where he was greeted by a cheering crowd, according to a video circulated by the military media.
For his part, Hemedti has remained reclusive, though he recently boasted of receiving a phone call from the President of Comoros, Azali Assoumani, who is also the chairman of the African Union, and another from the UN Under-Secretary General for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Martin Griffiths. Hemedti’s political team furthermore recently published a document outlining their purported political objectives, and Hemedti released a voice message threatening to declare a government, threatening to attack Port Sudan, and vowing to fight until victory.
In that message Hemedti vented about al-Burhan’s foreign visits, saying that he “embarks on foreign tours trying to impersonate the head of state, despite lacking legitimacy, and they intend to declare a government in part of Sudan despite our forces controlling most of Sudan.” At the time, al-Burhan was visiting South Sudan, where he was received with a red carpet ceremony.
Given this political context, the RSF may attempt to upstage al-Burhan’s New York visit by escalating the fighting in Khartoum in coming days.
The fighting around the army headquarters was more intense today than on previous days, according to media reports and crowd-sourced reports. The attack began with intense fighting Saturday, September 16, but fighting had died down in the past two days prior to this morning’s clashes.
In a statement, the RSF said they carried out “major quantitative operations in the General Command and Engineers and Signal Corps (areas), causing hundreds of deaths, and the remaining forces in those military sites have no choice but to surrender. We are determined to uproot the defunct terrorist regime from its roots…”
Separately, fighting also took place in the capital’s sister city Omdurman, where the RSF claimed to have carried out a big attack in the Karari area.
The RSF also claimed they shot down a warplane in Omdurman. Circulating images of debris purportedly from the aircraft were actually from Mali, where a Sukhoi-25 fighter jet recently crashed. However, a video showing an aircraft exploding in the air appears authentic on the basis of dialect analysis.
SAF carried out airstrikes in the Jabra area of southwest Khartoum on Wednesday, according to Radio Dabanga, an independent media outlet.
For its part, the Sudan Armed Forces have not yet commented on the fighting today in Khartoum and Omdurman.
New York meetings
The UN General Assembly meeting happening in New York is mostly an occasion for pageantry and political posturing, but important deal-making can happen on the sidelines. Today a “high-level ministerial side event” took place with the participation of Egypt, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the European Union, and the United States.
Of these, Egypt has been the most directly involved in the conflict, assisting the Sudan Armed Forces both practically and politically. Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry affirmed Egypt’s “determination to help the Sudanese people restore security and stability,” saying:
“Egypt will not spare any effort since the war broke out in Sudan to try to end the conflict and maintain the unity of Sudan and communicate with all Sudanese parties as well as all international players, particularly neighboring countries around Sudan that are more affected by the conflict.
“This effort has led to a plan to deal with military and humanitarian aspects of the crisis, especially treating the injured civilians, supporting educational institutions as well as other institutions that give aid to those who fled the war zones, and to provide warehouses with supplies to the Sudanese people inside and outside of Sudan.”
Shoukry did not call for a ceasefire or negotiations with the RSF.
By contrast, Prince Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud, the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, called for an immediate end to all hostilities, while also highlighting the Kingdom’s humanitarian response. He had attempted to mediate the conflict in May and June, hosting talks in Jeddah co-facilitated by the United States. These talks resulted in multiple short-term ceasefires, most of which were seriously violated.
Qatar’s representative, Lolwah Rashid Al-Khater, Minister of State for International Cooperation, called for “opening dialogue for peaceful resolution.” Qatar historically played a key role in mediating peace talks in the previous Darfur conflict.
The event was moderated by Melissa Fleming, UN Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications, and featured remarks by several senior UN officials. UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths called the situation in Sudan “the worst, most complex, most cruel humanitarian catastrophe we see in the world today.”
Separately, the United Kingdom hosted a meeting in New York to attempt to address stalled international mediation efforts. The meeting included representatives of the so-called ‘Quad’ of the UK, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and the USA.
Andrew Mitchell, the UK’s Minister of State for Development and Africa, tweeted afterwards, “SAF and RSF must agree to a ceasefire, restart the political process and facilitate humanitarian aid for the Sudanese people.”
East African leaders of the regional IGAD bloc are also expected to meet on the sidelines of the UN summit to discus the crisis in Sudan.
Previewing Burhan’s speech
Looking ahead to al-Burhan’s speech at the General Assembly, Sudan News Agency (SUNA) reports that he “is expected to include a comprehensive explanation to the heads of state and leaders of what is happening in Sudan.”
Citing a statement by the acting foreign minister, SUNA added that al-Burhan will explain “the widespread aggression launched by the disbanded rebel Rapid Support militia to seize power, and how it committed many atrocities, human rights violations, destruction and sabotage operations, terrorizing the population, and rape crimes…”
SUNA is a government media agency aligned with the Sudan Armed Forces.