IGAD agreed to request a summit of Eastern Africa Standby Force for humanitarian access and ‘protection of civilians’.
An eastern African bloc has called for a regional summit to consider deploying troops into Sudan to protect civilians, after nearly three months of violence between the army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).
The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), made up of eight states in and around the Horn of Africa, met in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa to kick-start a peace process for the conflict in Sudan.
But the initiative faced a setback as a delegation from Sudan’s army failed to attend the first day of meetings, having rejected Kenya’s president as head of the committee facilitating the talks.
In a statement, IGAD said it had agreed to request a summit of another regional body, the 10-member Eastern Africa Standby Force, “to consider the possible deployment of the EASF for the protection of civilians and guarantee humanitarian access”.
Sudan is a member of both bodies, as are Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Uganda.
Attending the IGAD meeting was United States Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Molly Phee. According to the US State Department, Phee will be meeting senior representatives of governments in the region as well as from the African Union Commission on her two-day visit.
Fighting that erupted on April 15 in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, quickly spread to other parts of the country. More than 2.9 million people have been displaced from their homes, including almost 700,000 who have fled to neighbouring countries – many of which are struggling with poverty and the impact of their own internal conflicts.
Diplomatic efforts to halt fighting between Sudan’s army and the RSF have so far proved ineffective, with competing initiatives creating confusion over how the warring parties might be brought to negotiate.
Sudanese army no-show
IGAD said it regretted the absence of a delegation from the Sudan army, which it said had earlier confirmed attendance.
Sudan’s foreign affairs ministry, which is controlled by the army, said the delegation did not turn up because IGAD had ignored its request to replace Kenya’s President William Ruto as head of the committee spearheading the talks.
Ruto “lacks impartiality in the ongoing crisis”, the ministry said through the state news agency. Last month it accused Kenya of harbouring the RSF.
Neither Ruto’s office nor the Kenyan ministry of foreign affairs responded immediately when Reuters sought comment. The Kenyan government said last month that the president was a neutral arbiter who was duly appointed by the IGAD summit.
Following the meeting, Ruto called for an unconditional ceasefire and the establishment of a humanitarian zone – spanning a radius of 30km (18 miles) in Khartoum – to aid the delivery of humanitarian assistance.
The IGAD talks come days after an air raid on a residential area killed at least 22 and wounded many others in the Sudanese city of Omdurman, according to the country’s health ministry.
The RSF claimed the “air strikes” killed 31.
About 3,000 people have been killed in the conflict, while survivors have reported a wave of sexual violence and witnesses have spoken of ethnically targeted killings.
Talks hosted in Jeddah and sponsored by the US and Saudi Arabia were suspended last month. Egypt has said it would host a separate summit of Sudan’s neighbours on July 13 to discuss ways to end the conflict.
Unlike the talks in Jeddah, the meeting in Addis Ababa was attended by members of a civilian coalition that shared power with the military in Sudan before a coup in 2021.
IGAD said that along with the African Union, it would immediately start a “civilian engagement process” aimed at delivering peace.