UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- The U.N. Security Council called Friday for an immediate cease-fire in Sudan to be followed by a permanent halt to hostilities and fresh efforts to reach a lasting democratic political settlement in the conflict-wracked country.
The U.N.'s most powerful body strongly condemned all attacks on civilians since fighting between rival generals vying for power broke out in mid-April and called for "rapid, safe and unhindered access throughout Sudan" to help millions in need.
The fighting has killed at least 866 civilians and wounded thousands more, according to the Sudanese Doctors' Syndicate which tracks civilian casualties. And more than 1.3 million people have fled their homes to try to escape the violence, with over a million still in the country and 320,000 in neighboring Egypt, South Sudan, Chad, Ethiopia, and the Central African Republic, according to the U.N.'s International Organization for Migration.
The press statement from the council was issued before the council voted unanimously to extend the U.N. political mission in Sudan for six months, instead of a year, to give members time to see what happens on the ground and consider its future.
United Arab Emirates Ambassador Lana Nusseibeh, the current council president, called it "very positive" that all members not only voted to extend the U.N. mission but united behind a "very substantive" statement "that lays out the council's expectations of what should happen next in Sudan -- and that is clearly an immediate and permanent cease-fire arrangement."
The Security Council underlined the need "for strengthened international coordination and continued collaboration" and reaffirmed "their firm support for African leadership," noting the African Union's six-point roadmap to resolve the conflict as well as efforts by the Arab League and the regional group IGAD.
Gabon's U.N. Ambassador Michel Biang told the council after the vote that the security situation in Sudan continues to worsen.
"The country is at a critical stage of its history with a heightened risk of civil war if the conflict continues," he warned, speaking on behalf of the two other African members on the council, Ghana and Mozambique, as well. "And there is, if that occurs, a grave risk of serious consequences being visited upon all countries in the region."
Biang stressed that the presence of the U.N. mission "is now more important than ever before to coordinate the U.N.'s response to the complex challenges plaguing the country."
On Wednesday, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres asked to brief the council behind closed doors for only the fifth time since he took office in January 2017 about the impact of the ongoing conflict on the U.N. mission known as UNITAMS. It was established by the council on June 3, 2020, to provide support to Sudan during its political transition to democratic rule.
In a brief statement to reporters after the meeting, the U.N. chief said he told the 15 council members it's up to them to decide whether to continue the political mission to Sudan or whether "it's time to end it."
Following the ouster of Sudanese strongman Omar al-Bashir in 2019, Sudan embarked on a shaky democratic transition led by civilian and army leaders. But the generals seized complete power in a coup in October 2021, before turning against each other.
Sudanese leader Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan and Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, who heads the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, agreed to restore the transition but clashed over the terms of the RSF's merger into the army, a disagreement that exploded into open conflict on April 15.
A week ago, Burhan demanded in a letter to Guterres that the U.N. special envoy to Sudan, Volker Perthes, be removed, saying his approach in pre-war talks between the generals helped inflame the conflict and accusing him of "being partisan." The U.N. chief was "shocked" by the letter.
After Wednesday's meeting, Guterres said he reaffirmed to the council "my full confidence in Volker Perthes."
In Friday's statement, the Security Council reaffirmed support for UNITAMS, which Perthes leads, though council members did not mention him in the statement.
Late Thursday, the United States and Saudi Arabia announced that they were suspending peace talks with representatives of the two generals that had been taking place in the Saudi city of Jeddah since late May. Sudan's military had suspended its participation in the talks Wednesday, citing "repeated violations" by RSF forces of a U.S.-Saudi brokered humanitarian cease-fire, including their continued occupation of hospitals and other civilian infrastructure in the capital, Khartoum. The RSF said it "unconditionally backs the Saudi-U.S. initiative."
The U.S.-Saudi joint statement said the talks were being suspended "as a result of repeated serious violations of the short-term ceasefire and recent ceasefire extension" on Monday.