Officials: UN chief ‘shocked’ by letter from Sudan’s military ruler demanding UN envoy be replaced

CAIRO — UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was “shocked” by a letter from Sudan’s military ruler demanding the removal of the UN envoy, Sudanese and UN officials said Saturday.

The letter from General Abdel-Fattah Burhan, Sudan’s top military official and head of the ruling Sovereign Council, came as Sudan descended into further chaos after escalating tensions between the military rivals erupted into open fighting last month.

“The Secretary-General was shocked by the letter he received this (Friday) morning,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. “The Secretary-General is proud of the work of (UN High Commissioner) Volker Perthes and reaffirms his full confidence in his Special Representative.”

Dujarric did not reveal the contents of the letter. But a senior military official said Burhan’s letter asked Guterres to replace Perthes, who was appointed to the post in 2021.

The official said Burhan accused Perthes of being “partisan” and that his attitude during pre-war talks between the generals and the pro-democracy movement had helped fuel the conflict. The aim of the talks was to restore the country’s democratic transition, which was derailed by the October 2021 military coup.

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The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

Perthes also refused to comment on the letter.

Last year, Burhan accused Perthes of overstepping the UN mission’s mandate and apparently meddling in Sudanese affairs. He threatened to expel her from the country.

The ongoing fighting broke out in mid-April between the military and the powerful Rapid Support Forces under the command of General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo. Burhan and Dagalo both led the 2021 coup that ousted the Western-backed government of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok.

The center of the fighting was the capital city of Khartoum, which was turned into a battlefield together with its sister city, Omdurman. Clashes have spread to other parts of the country, including the war-torn Darfur region.

The conflict has killed hundreds of people and injured thousands more, pushing the country close to collapse. It has forced more than 1.3 million people from their homes to safer areas within Sudan or to neighboring countries.

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Since the fighting began, sexual violence, including the rape of women and girls, has been reported in Khartoum and Darfur, a common practice in Sudan’s wars and political upheavals.

The Anti-Violence Against Women Unit, a government-run group, said on Friday that there were at least 24 reports of sexual assaults in Khartoum and 25 other cases in Darfur.

A unit that monitors violence against women across the country said most of the survivors reported that the attackers wore RSF uniforms and were in areas controlled by RSF checkpoints in Khartoum.

RSF did not respond to a request for comment.

Both warring parties agreed to a one-week ceasefire brokered by the United States and Saudi Arabia. However, the ceasefire scheduled to expire on Monday evening did not stop the fighting in some parts of Khartoum and other parts of the county.

Residents reported sporadic clashes in parts of Omdurman on Saturday, with army jets seen flying over the city. Fighting was also reported in al-Fasher, the provincial capital of North Darfur.

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Burhan’s letter came after the UN envoy accused the warring parties of ignoring the laws of war, attacking homes, shops, places of worship and water and electricity networks.

In a briefing to the UN Security Council earlier this week, Perthes blamed army and RSF leaders for the war, saying they had decided “to settle their unresolved conflict on the battlefield rather than at the table”.