The United States and African nations raced to secure an extension of a ceasefire in Sudan on Thursday, with the Sudanese army saying it had given an initial nod to an African proposal calling for talks even as heavy fighting continued.
Hundreds of people have been killed in nearly two weeks of conflict between the army and a rival paramilitary force – the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) – which are locked in a power struggle threatening to destabilise the wider region.
An RSF statement accused the army of attacking its forces on Thursday and spreading “false rumours”, making no reference to the proposal which the army said came from the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), an African regional bloc.
The sound of air strikes and anti-aircraft fire could be heard in the capital Khartoum and the nearby cities of Omdurman and Bahri, witnesses and Reuters journalists said.
The existing three-day ceasefire brought about a lull in fighting, without completely halting it, but is due to expire at midnight (2200 GMT).
Many foreign nationals remain stuck in Sudan despite an exodus marking one of the largest such evacuations since the withdrawal of U.S.-led forces from Afghanistan in 2021. Sudanese civilians, who have been struggling to find food, water and fuel, continued to flee Khartoum on Thursday.
The army late on Wednesday said its leader, General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, had given initial approval to the plan to extend the truce for another 72 hours and to send an army envoy to the South Sudan capital, Juba, for talks.
The military said the presidents of South Sudan, Kenya and Djibouti worked on a proposal that includes extending the truce and talks between the two forces, whose conflict derailed a transition to civilian democracy after a 2021 military coup.
“Burhan thanked the IGAD and expressed an initial approval to that,” the army statement said.
IGAD reaffirmed an earlier call for an immediate cessation of hostilities, de-escalation and a return to the negotiating table. A statement by the bloc made no mention of Juba talks.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat discussed working together to create a sustainable end to the fighting, the State Department said on Wednesday.
At least 512 people have been killed and close to 4,200 wounded by the fighting since April 15.
The crisis has sent growing numbers of refugees across Sudan’s borders. The U.N. refugee agency has estimated 270,000 people could flee into South Sudan and Chad alone.
Thousands of people, mainly Sudanese, have been waiting at the border to cross into Egypt, Sudan’s neighbour to the north.
France said on Thursday it had evacuated more people from Sudan, including Britons, Americans, Canadians, Ethiopians, Dutch, Italians and Swedes. Britain said it might not be able to continue evacuating nationals when the ceasefire ends, and they should try to reach British flights out of Sudan immediately.
Mohammad Al Samman, a Syrian evacuated to Jordan by plane, expressed shock at how the violence had begun suddenly and with such intensity. “I didn’t witness this in Syria. With all the war and destruction in Syria, it didn’t happen just suddenly,” Al Samman told Reuters after landing in Jordan.
The conflict has limited food distribution in the vast nation, Africa’s third largest, where a third of the 46 million people were already reliant on humanitarian aid.
An estimated 50,000 acutely malnourished children have had treatment disrupted due to the conflict, and those hospitals still functioning face shortages of medical supplies, power and water, according to a U.N. update on Wednesday.
The Sudan Doctors’ Union said 60 out of 86 hospitals in conflict zones had stopped operating.
Much of the fighting has been focused in Khartoum, where RSF fighters have embedded themselves in residential areas, and the western province of Darfur, where conflict has simmered ever since civil war erupted there two decades ago.
Tension had been building for months between Sudan’s army and the RSF, which together toppled a civilian government in an October 2021 coup, two years after a popular uprising toppled long-ruling Islamist autocrat Omar al-Bashir.