UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- The United States called on Sudan Tuesday to build an inclusive and representative government that ensures peace, supports people on the margins and helps "those who have suffered achieve justice."
U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield also called for implementation of the historic Juba Peace Agreement signed six months ago by the civilian-led transitional government and rebel groups, saying so far "the Sudanese people have not seen the commitment and engagement by signatory parties necessary for progress."
She told the U.N. Security Council that Sudan should also complete the formation of an inclusive Transitional Legislative Council, where women comprise at least 40 percent of the representatives.
Sudan, which has been on a fragile path to democracy since the military ousted autocratic President Omar al-Bashir in April 2019 following mass pro-democracy protests, is ruled by a transitional military-civilian government. On Feb. 10, a new Cabinet was sworn in that includes rebel ministers as part of the power-sharing deal the transitional authorities struck in Juba with a rebel alliance.
Sudan's largest single rebel group, the Sudan Liberation Movement-North led by Abdel-Aziz al-Hilu, has been in talks with the transitional government but has yet to reach a deal with the government. Another major rebel group, the Sudan Liberation Movement-Army in the restive Darfur region, which is led by Abdel-Wahid Nour, rejects the transitional government and has not taken part in the talks.
Thomas-Greenfield said a "shocking attack" in West Darfur in January, which reportedly killed 163 people and displaced some 50,000, was "a tragic reminder of the ongoing threats that civilians face in Sudan."
She called on the government to establish security forces, rule of law and justice institutions in Darfur including the Special Court for Darfur Crimes.
Sudan's transitional government faces towering challenges, including a huge budget deficit and widespread shortages of essential goods and soaring prices of bread and other staples. The country is $70 billion in debt and the rapidly deteriorating economic conditions triggered protests earlier this year in Khartoum and other cities across the country.
On Feb. 21, Sudan began a managed flotation of its currency, an unprecedented but expected step to meet a major demand by international financial institutions to help transitional authorities overhaul the battered economy.
The Security Council meeting also focused on the end of the joint U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur known as UNAMID on Dec. 31 and its replacement with a much smaller and solely political mission, known as United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan, or UNITAMS.
The Darfur conflict began in 2003 when ethnic Africans rebelled, accusing the Arab-dominated Sudanese government of discrimination. The government in Khartoum was accused of retaliating by arming local nomadic Arab tribes and unleashing them on civilian populations — a charge it denies. UNAMID was established in 2007.
Volker Perthes, the new U.N. special envoy for Sudan and head of UNITAMS, said in his first briefing to the Security Council that "Sudan is making significant advances in its transition. However, the remaining challenges are staggering."
On the plus side, he pointed to the new Cabinet including signatories of the Juba agreement, and the government's agreement on national priorities. These include addressing the dire socioeconomics conditions, fully implementing the Juba agreement and resuming negotiations with the two rebel groups that didn't sign it, reforming the security sector, protecting civilians, promoting international relations, and advancing Sudan's democratic transition.
On the minus side, Perthes said a diverse Legislative Council needs to be formed swiftly and "is critical to broaden the support for the political transition." He cited fears that gains for women's rights in the constitutional document won't be realized, and he also pointed to "frustration" by Sudanese young people over their lack of participation in transitional institutions.
Perthes also warned that "economic hardships are posing a risk to Sudan's stability."
"Inflation stood at 304% in January," he said, adding that the country suffers from high rates of unemployment and poverty, with 13.4 million people — a quarter of the population — projected to need humanitarian assistance.
Both Perthes and Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. envoy, expressed concern at rising tensions along the Sudan-Ethiopia border.
The U.N. envoy said 70,000 people recently arrived in Sudan, having fled the conflict between Ethiopian and allied forces and those supporting the now-fugitive leaders in embattled Tigray province who once dominated Ethiopia's government.
Thomas-Greenfield pointed to "the recent bellicose rhetoric and the positioning of additional forces around the el-Fashaga area" and warned that "the risk of miscalculation is high."
"So, we call on both sides to expand direct communications to prevent any further military escalation and commit to discussions -- without preconditions," she said.