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Radio France Internationale
Radio France Internationale
Melissa Chemam with RFI

Sudan conference opens in Paris to try and fix 'forgotten' crisis

France's Minister for Foreign and European Affairs Stephane Séjourné and German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock prior to an international conference on Sudan at the Quai d'Orsay in Paris on 15 April 2024. AFP - SARAH MEYSSONNIER

Paris – Top diplomats from France, Germany and the European Union are set to push for more funding for Sudan on Monday at a meeting in Paris to mark the first anniversary of the war. NGOs and Sudanese civil society also hope that the meetings will hold Sudanese military leaders to account.

France is seeking contributions from the international community, and attention to what officials say is a crisis pushed out of the global conversation by the other ongoing conflicts such as those in the Middle East or Ukraine.

A ministerial meeting on political matters is to be accompanied by talks about the humanitarian situation in Sudan, which organisers said would include dozens of representatives of Sudan's civil society.

"The idea is to move this crisis up to the top of the agenda," said Christophe Lemoine, a spokesman for the French foreign ministry.

"We cannot let Sudan become a forgotten crisis," he added.

Not a 'forgotten crisis'

At Monday's meeting, French Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné was joined by his German counterpart Annalena Baerbock, top EU diplomat Josep Borrell and EU Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarcic.

Germany will provide a further €244 million in humanitarian aid to Sudan, Baerbock said on Monday morning.

"We can manage together to avoid a terrible famine catastrophe, but only if we get active together now", Baerbock said, adding that, in the worst-case scenario, one million people could die of hunger this year.

French President Emmanuel Macron is scheduled to meet Borrell and Lenarcic at the end of the conference, according to the EU's external action office.

In addition to humanitarian issues, officials said there were also political dangers, such as the possible break-up of Sudan into splinter states.

Aid workers say a year of war has led to a catastrophe, whereas the world has turned away from the country of 48 million.

Member of the Sudanese coalition Taqaddum (Coordination of Civilian Democratic Forces), Nureldin Satti told RFI that the war is a regional conflict that is becoming international, with interventions from both Russia and Ukraine, supporting each side, with impact on oil and gold production, affecting a vast region.

He added he had high hopes that the conference could help create regional and international coordination to begin to solve the crisis.

Not too late

Only five percent of the 3.8-billion-euro target in the UN's latest humanitarian appeal has been funded so far this year, according to the French foreign ministry.

"We don't have the ambition to cover the whole sum, but we have hope that the international community wakes up," said one ministry official.

The ministerial meeting is held behind closed doors, and also brings together representatives from Sudan's neighbours, as well as from Gulf nations and western powers, including the United States and Britain, along with regional organisations and the UN.

The United States plans to announce an additional $100 million (€93 million) in aid, hoping the Paris conference could also encourage others to give.

Last week, US Special Envoy to Sudan Tom Perriello called the international response so far "pitiful" adding that the US had already committed over a billion dollars in humanitarian relief to the conflict.

Meanwhile, actors from Sudan's civil society, including activists, unionists and journalists, will get together to discuss "a possible peace process, and what happens after the war", an official said.

Laetitia Bader, at NGO Human Rights Watch, said she hoped that the conference would deliver "a very tough message" to the belligerents, including threats of sanctions.

The warring parties have been blocking access for humanitarian assistance, pillaging foreign financial aid and targeting humanitarian workers in attacks, she said.

Sophia Sprechmann Sineiro, International Secretary for the NGO Care international told RFI the risk of hunger in Sudan is high.

"The Sudanese cannot wait any longer! The time for action is now. The conference must be a turning point in the international response, to propose concrete and immediate solutions against this tragedy... World leaders must obtain and maintain a ceasefire."

The world's largest displacement crisis

The war in Sudan broke out on 15 April 2023, between the Sudanese army and paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

A year of war has devastated infrastructure, prompted warnings of famine and driven more than 8.5 million people away from their homes, creating the world's largest displacement crisis, inside and outside Sudan.

Sudan is experiencing "one of the worst humanitarian disasters in recent memory" and "the largest internal displacement crisis in the world", the United Nations said recently.

It uprooted families multiple times as people struggle to escape to neighbouring countries with economic and security problems of their own, like Chad, South Sudan, and even Egypt.

Thousands of civilians have also been killed, although death toll estimates are highly uncertain, and each side has been accused of committing war crimes.

Both sides have largely denied the accusations against them.

The World Health Organization said on Friday that the crisis is likely to worsen in the coming months as the distribution of humanitarian aid and medical supplies remains restricted.

"The civilians here are enduring starvation, mass sexual violence, large-scale ethnic killing, and executions," added Will Carter, Sudan country director for the Norwegian Refugee Council.

"Millions more are displaced, and yet the world continues to look the other way."

(with newswires)

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