UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths urges guarantees of safe passage for aid amid Sudan conflict

Sunday, May 7, 2023

In Port Sudan Wednesday, Martin Griffiths, the United Nations (UN)'s top humanitarian aid official, called for warring factions in Sudan to publicly commit to safe passage for humanitarian aid. Griffiths said the World Food Programme (WFP) informed him six of its trucks were looted while en route to Darfur, in the nation's west, although, he claimed, forces had assured the WFP its operations would not be compromised.

Griffiths at the United States Department of State building in Washington, D.C. in October.
Image: US Department of State.

Griffiths was in Sudan with the stated aim of investigating how to provide aid to millions trapped amid the clashes between the Sudanese Army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary. He said to media via video: "We will still require agreements and arrangements to allow for movement of staff and supplies".

"We will need to have agreement at the highest level and very publicly and we will need to deliver those commitments into local arrangements that can be depended on", Griffiths continued.

Griffiths told Reuters he spoke to General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, in command of the Army, and General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, leading the RSF, by phone to urge them to create humanitarian corridors for aid. "It's important to me that we meet physically, face-to-face to discuss this, because we need it to be a public, accountable moment", Griffiths stated.

"It's a volatile environment, so we need those commitments", he continued.

Griffiths argued: "It's not as if we're asking for the moon. We're asking for the movement of humanitarian supplies, of people. We do this in every other country, even without ceasefires. It's a traditional humanitarian enterprise to go where others don't".

On Twitter, Griffiths urged: "Ensure safe passage for civilians fleeing areas of hostilities. Respect humanitarian workers and assets".

The UN special representative for Sudan, Volker Perthes, in an interview with Sky News, said, "all the warehouses, WFP, UNHCR [UN Refugee Agency] and others in Darfur were looted. Vehicles from the humanitarian agencies were looted. The offices of my own mission as well as offices, agencies in most of the towns of Darfur were looted. Food trucks were looted".

Perthes blamed this looting for his agency's delay in distributing aid in Sudan: "WFP lost like 4,000 metric tons of humanitarian goods. So if all this is looted - you cannot distribute it".

Perthes said: "Staff members were held at gunpoint. Staff members were thrown out of their houses by armed fighters who took positions, and houses were broken into. We had at least one case of attempted sexual assault [...] on a female staff member. Many of the houses and apartments were hit by stray shells and bullets".

The International Organization for Migration stated 70% of the 330,000 internally displaced Sudanese were from West and South Darfur.

On Tuesday, the South Sudanese foreign ministry said the army and the RSF "have agreed in principle for a seven-day truce from May 4th to 11th". In a statement, the army expressed support for extending an ongoing truce by a week and meeting leaders from South Sudan, Kenya and Djibouti, as the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a regional organization, suggested.

...even though they accept the ceasefire, at the same time they continue fighting and shelling the city

—Ismail Wais

Forces have agreed to several ceasefires, but none held. IGAD official Ismail Wais stated: "The two generals, even though they accept the ceasefire, at the same time they continue fighting and shelling".

He declared the continued fighting "compounds and complicates the political, security and humanitarian situation on the ground making it harder to resolve".

Perthes told Sky of the talks: "The idea is to actually bring them physically together to agree face-to-face on some of the modalities of a ceasefire — which is more than just a declaration of 'we're going to stop the fighting'".

In 2019, the Sudanese Army overthrew President Omar al-Bashir after protests, ending his 30 years in power, and forming a joint government with civilians. After a 2021 coup, with Dagalo as his deputy, al-Burhan led the council of generals ruling Sudan.

The two generals disagreed over the process of the transition to democracy and who would command an army integrated with the RSF. The RSF shifted fighters around Sudan, which, according to the BBC, the army interpreted as a threat, prompting fighting to begin on April 15.

The 100,000-fighter RSF is a successor to the Janjaweed militia, whom al-Bashir deployed against rebels from Darfur's ethnic minority.