CAIRO -- Sudan's military ruler demanded in a letter to the U.N. secretary general that the U.N. envoy to his country be removed, officials said Saturday. The U.N. chief was “shocked” by the letter, a spokesman said.
The envoy, Volker Perthes, has been a key mediator in Sudan, first during the country's fitful attempts to transition to democracy and then after worsening tensions between military rivals exploded into open fighting last month.
The fighting pits troops loyal to military chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan against a powerful paramilitary group, the Rapid Support Forces, headed by Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo.
Burhan's letter to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was received Friday.
“The Secretary-General is shocked by the letter he received this morning,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. “The Secretary-General is proud of the work done by Volker Perthes and reaffirms his full confidence in his Special Representative.”
Dujarric didn’t reveal the contents of the letter. A senior Sudanese military official said Burhan’s letter asked Guterres to replace Perthes who was appointed to the post in 2021.
According to the official, Burhan accused Perthes of “being partisan,” and that his approach in pre-war talks between the generals and the pro-democracy movement helped inflame the conflict. The talks had aimed at restoring the country’s democratic transition, which was derailed by a military coup in Oct. 2021.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief media.
Later Saturday, the U.S. State Department said it supports Perthes and that he “continues to have our confidence.” A statement by spokesman Matthew Miller said that “we express our concern over the letter from the Sudanese Armed Forces calling for his (Perthes’) resignation.”
Perthes declined to comment on the letter.
Burhan’s letter came after the U.N. envoy accused the warring parties of disregarding the laws of war by attacking homes, shops, places of worship, and water and electricity installations.
In his briefing to the U.N. Security Council earlier this week, Perthes blamed the leaders of the military and the RSF for the war, saying they have chosen to “settle their unresolved conflict on the battlefield rather than at the table.”
Burhan accused Perthes last year of “exceeding the U.N. mission’s mandate and of blatant interference in Sudanese affairs.” He threatened to expel him from the country.
The ongoing fighting broke out in mid-April between the military and the powerful RSF. Both Burhan and Dagalo led the 2021 coup that removed the Western-backed government of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok.
The fighting turned the capital of Khartoum and the adjacent city of Omdurman into a battleground. The clashes also spread elsewhere in the country, including the war-wracked Darfur region.
The conflict has killed hundreds of people, wounded thousands and pushed the country to near collapse. It forced more than 1.3 million out of their homes to safer areas inside Sudan, or to neighboring nations.
Sexual violence including rape of women and girls, a common practice in Sudan's wars and political upheavals, were reported in Khartoum and Darfur since the fighting began.
The Combating Violence Against Women Unit, a government-run group, said Friday it received reports of at least 24 cases of sexual attacks in Khartoum, and 25 other cases in Darfur.
The unit, which tracks violence against women, said most survivors reported that the attackers were in RSF uniform and in areas of Khartoum controlled by RSF checkpoints.
The RSF did not respond to a request for comment.
The warring parties have agreed on a weeklong cease-fire, brokered by the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. However, the truce, which is scheduled to expire Monday night, did not stop the fighting in parts of Khartoum and elsewhere in the county.
Residents reported sporadic clashes Saturday in parts of Omdurman, where the army’s aircraft were seen flying over the city. Fighting was also reported in al-Fasher, the provincial capital of North Darfur.