The United Nations pressed Sudan’s warring factions on Wednesday to guarantee safe passage of humanitarian aid after six trucks were looted and air strikes in the capital Khartoum undermined a supposed truce.
“We will need to have agreement at the highest level and very publicly … to allow for movement of staff and supplies,” said U.N. aid chief Martin Griffiths.
He was speaking from Port Sudan on the Red Sea coast, where many have fled after more than two weeks of fighting between the army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).
Air strikes were heard in Khartoum and the adjoining cities of Omdurman and Bahri on Wednesday, even as the two sides had agreed to extend a series of shaky and broken truces for a further seven days from Thursday.
With international mediators pressing for peace talks, Sudan’s army said it would send an envoy for talks with South Sudan, Kenya and Djibouti leaders.
Sudan said on Tuesday 550 people had died, with 4,926 wounded, so far in the conflict.
About 100,000 people have fled with little food or water to neighbouring countries, the U.N. says.
Aid has been held up in the nation of 46 million people where about one-third had already relied on relief assistance.
Griffiths said he had been told by the World Food Programme (WFP) that six of their trucks travelling to the western region of Darfur were looted en route despite assurances of safety and security. There was no immediate comment from WFP.
“It’s a volatile environment, so we need those commitments,” Griffiths said. “It’s not as if we’re asking for the moon. We’re asking for the movement of humanitarian supplies, of people.”
In Nairobi, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the international community must tell army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and paramilitary leader General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti, that the situation is unacceptable.
The two generals must face pressure to stop fighting, begin dialogue and allow a transition to civilian government, he said.
Burhan’s envoy Dafallah Alhaj said in Cairo that the army accepted talks but there would be no face-to-face discussions with the RSF and communication would be through mediators.
South Sudan has said both sides have agreed to the ceasefire and to send representatives to talks, but the RSF has not officially commented. Hemedti said in a tweet on Wednesday he was committed to “opening and securing safe corridors.”
Tens of thousands of people have left Khartoum and its adjoining cities at the confluence of the White and Blue Nile rivers. Army jets have been bombing RSF units, some of which have moved into residential districts of the capital region.
“If I hear the (army) air strikes I feel safe because at least I know the RSF won’t come into my house,” said Omdurman resident Salma, adding that the relentless fighting keeps her up at night. “I protested against (fallen autocrat Omar al-) Bashir and against army rule, but for now they’re protecting me.”
Several Khartoum neighborhoods face severe water shortages due to blackouts, lack of fuel and damage to water supplies. The vast majority of hospitals are no longer functional.
The conflict has spread to Darfur where the RSF emerged from tribal militias that fought beside government forces to crush rebels in a war dating back 20 years.
The army and RSF joined forces in a coup two years ago and had shared power as part of an internationally backed transition towards free elections and civilian government.