Un Aid Chief Says Warring Sudan Generals Agreed To Talk On Humanitarian Issues. He's Still Waiting

This is a locator map for Sudan with its capital, Khartoum. (AP Photo)
This is a locator map for Sudan with its capital, Khartoum. (AP Photo)
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GENEVA (AP) — A top U.N. official said Wednesday that the two generals in Sudan whose forces have been at war for the last 10 months assured him recently that they would attend a meeting in Switzerland to discuss humanitarian issues and Sudan's beleaguered civilians.

“I'm still waiting to see when that happens," Martin Griffiths, the U.N. undersecretary for humanitarian affairs, told reporters in Geneva during an appeal for more aid funding to help Sudan's people.

Sudan slipped into chaos in April after tensions between military chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan and Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, commander of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, exploded into open fighting in the capital, Khartoum, and beyond. Fighting has since left at least 12,000 people dead and sent millions fleeing their homes both within Sudan and abroad.

“This is a war decided by two generals who decided to resolve their differences in a process of transition. How? Not by proceeding with an agreed plan for transition, but by deciding ‘let’s just go to war, let’s do killing instead of talking,’” Griffiths said.

Griffiths, who heads the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that he had spoken with both generals over the last 10 days or so, hoping to get them to return to commitments laid out in talks about Sudan in the Saudi city of Jeddah last year.

He said that talks under U.N. mediation would focus on planning for access for humanitarian aid and movements of personnel to distribute it, in a country rife with pockets of fighting.

“Both said yes — that they would be happy to come. In fact, they said to Switzerland,” Griffiths said. "I’m still waiting for a confirmation of when and where they will come.”

Griffiths said that he was “keen” to arrange a face-to-face meeting, but in the meantime, a virtual one to start with.

“What we’re trying to do, because of course we’re not giving up, is to have — at least begin — with a virtual call mediated by the humanitarian coordinator, Clementine, who is based in Port Sudan,” he said, referring to the U.N. resident coordinator in Sudan, Clementine Awu Nkweta-Salami.

The comments came as OCHA and the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, appealed for $4.1 billion in international support for embattled civilians in Sudan amid signs that some may be dying of starvation after nearly a year of war there between the forces of the rival generals.

The agencies said that half of Sudan’s population, or around 25 million people, requires support and protection, and that the requested funds would go to help millions of civilians in Sudan and others who have fled abroad.

“They have lost so much," said U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, who recently met with displaced families in Sudan and neighboring Ethiopia. "Time after time, we hear the same message from them: We want peace so we can go home, and we need support to rebuild our lives.”

“They desperately need help, and they need it now,” Grandi added.

About two-thirds of the funds in the appeal would go to OCHA and its partners to help nearly 15 million people in the country, while the rest would go to help nearly 2.7 million people who have fled into five neighboring countries.

Griffiths said that his office's appeal last year for just under $2.6 billion was less than half-funded.

U.N. officials have urged the world to pay attention to the suffering caused by wrenching conflicts in places like Sudan, Congo, Afghanistan and Myanmar and to ensure the wars in Ukraine and Gaza don't overshadow the needs of civilians elsewhere in the world.

“Sudan has hugely lost media attention,” Griffiths said, adding that the country “is a place of as great a suffering as anywhere in the world today.”

“Gaza has at least got attention. And with attention, it has international efforts to get to a peace process,” he added. In Sudan, Griffiths said, "we are seeing no progress towards peace in these 10 months.”

The United Nations says the war in Sudan has killed at least 12,000 people, although local doctors groups say the true toll is far higher. More than 10.7 million people have been displaced, according to the U.N. migration agency.

The U.N.'s World Food Program says that around 18 million people across Sudan face acute hunger, with the most desperate trapped behind the front lines of the conflict. About 19 million children are out of school, the U.N. says.