Sudan's paramilitary commander Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo speaks following the signing of an initial deal aimed at ending a deep crisis caused by military coup, in the capital Khartoum on Dec 5, 2022. (PHOTO / AFP)

KHARTOUM – Sudan's army warned on Thursday of a risk of confrontation after mobilizations by a powerful paramilitary group, underlining growing strains between the rival forces and a potential complication in moves to restore civilian rule.

It could spell prolonged strife across a vast country already dealing with economic breakdown and flare-ups of tribal violence.

The mobilization by the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) headed by General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo represented a "clear violation of law," the army said in a rare comment on a dispute that has hampered a planned transition to democracy.

Sudan's army in a statment advised politicians not to get involved in tensions inflamed by negotiations on the integration of the RSF within the military as part of the new deal

"These movements and deployments happened without the agreement of the leadership of the armed forces or even coordination with it," the army spokesman said.

"Their continuation will lead to more tension and divisions that could lead to insecurity in the country."

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Western ambassadors from the United States, the United Kingdom and Europe said they were "deeply concerned" by the escalation which they said threatened to derail ongoing talks.

The RSF emerged from militias involved in the conflict in Darfur which broke out 20 years ago, and has been accused of human rights abuses. It operates under its own legal code and chain of command.

The RSF joined with the military to overthrow long-ruling Islamist strong man Omar Hassan al-Bashir in a coup in 2019. The two forces then carried out another coup in October 2021.

Relations between the military and the RSF have since deteriorated, forcing a delay in the signing of an internationally backed agreement with political parties for a two-year, civilian-led transition to free elections.

The army statement advised politicians not to get involved in tensions inflamed by negotiations on the integration of the RSF within the military as part of the new deal.

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Dagalo, better known in Sudan as Hemedti, has said he regrets the coup and supports the UN, Western- and Gulf-backed transition deal to help prevent the resurgence of pro-Bashir Islamists, a concern shared by civilian political parties.

In a call with special envoys from the United States, UK and Norway, Hemedti said he was committed to an initial framework deal signed in December, according to a statement from his office late on Thursday.

"He stressed his desire to enhance stability and to work to support the democratic transition," the statement said.

RSF movements

The RSF began redeploying units in the capital Khartoum and elsewhere amid talks last month, military sources told Reuters at the time, prompting the army to go into a state of high alert, particularly around the presidential palace.

The army's warning on Thursday was spurred by a movement of RSF vehicles near a military airport in the northern city of Merowe reported by local pro-democracy groups. The RSF said late on Wednesday the repositioning of vehicles was part of its normal duties in coordination with the regular armed forces.

Witnesses told Reuters that they saw a convoy of RSF vehicles including armoured trucks enter Khartoum on Thursday.

Political figures issued statements on Thursday about attempts to mediate between the RSF and army high command.

Three ex-rebel chiefs now in government posts said they had reached out to army General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, head of the ruling Sovereign Council, and Dagalo, his deputy on the council, in an attempt to mediate.

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"We found both sides to be responsive," Malik Agar, Jibril Ibrahim, and Minni Minawi said in a statement, adding that they called on them to make concessions to prevent bloodshed.

Earlier, the head of the National Umma Party, Fadlallah Burma Nasir, a retired soldier, invited the generals to a meeting, imploring all sides to learn lessons from civil conflicts in other countries in the region.

However, mediator sources told Reuters that while both Hemedti and Burhan had been open to mediation, they had remained intransigent in their positions.

The central dispute is over the leadership of the military in the interim period before integration, with Burhan insisting on the army remaining in charge while Hemedti demanding a civilian head the governing council.

Hemedti, who has amassed considerable wealth and expanded domestic and foreign relations, has said repeatedly in speeches that he wants no confrontation with the army.

"We urge (military and civilian leaders) to hold to their commitments and engage constructively to resolve outstanding issues on security sector reform to establish a future unified, professional military accountable to a civilian government," the ambassadors from the United States, the UK, the EU and European countries said in a statement.