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KHARTOUM: The UN’s top humanitarian official arrived in Saudi Arabia Sunday for ceasefire talks between Sudan’s warring generals, as gun battles and air strikes flared in the Sudanese capital at the start of a fourth week of fighting.

Multiple truce deals have been declared and quickly violated since battles erupted between army and paramilitary forces on April 15 in the poverty-stricken country with a history of political instability. Fierce combat since then has killed hundreds of people, most of them civilians, wounded thousands and sparked multiple warnings of a potential “catastrophic” humanitarian crisis.

More than 100,000 people have already fled the country.

In embattled Khartoum, fighter jets have bombed positions as terrified residents stay barricaded indoors trying to cope with dire shortages of water, food, medicines and other staples.

Across the Red Sea in the Saudi city of Jeddah, talks were underway aiming for a ceasefire that could push efforts to bring humanitarian aid to the besieged population.

The generals leading the warring parties have said little about the talks being held in Jeddah since Saturday.

Army spokesman Brigadier General Nabil Abdalla said the talks were on how a truce “can be correctly implemented to serve the humanitarian side”, while Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, who heads the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), only said on Twitter that he welcomed the technical discussions.

The UN’s top humanitarian official, Martin Griffiths, was in Jeddah Sunday “and the purpose of his visit is to engage in humanitarian issues related to Sudan,” spokesperson Eri Kaneko said. Griffiths was last week in Port Sudan, where he said he had been informed by the UN’s World Food Programme that six trucks bringing aid to the Darfur region had been “looted en route” Wednesday, “despite assurances of safety and security”.

He called for security guarantees “clearly given by militaries, to protect humanitarian systems to deliver”. There was no indication that Griffiths would play a direct role in the Saudi discussions about a possible ceasefire. Riyadh and Washington have supported the “pre-negotiation talks” and urged the belligerents to “get actively involved”.

Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit expressed his support Sunday for the “indirect negotiations” in order to prevent “an escalation of the current conflict” into a prolonged war “that divides Sudan into warring regions.”

Heavyweights in the pan-Arab bloc are divided on Sudan. Egypt solidly supports the regular army, and the UAE is in favour of the RSF, according to experts.

At the same meeting, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry warned of “a slide into a worse and more dangerous security situation for Sudan, its people, neighbouring countries and the region”.

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