CAIRO -- Sudan's warring sides on Monday agreed to extend a shaky cease-fire in their battle for control of the country, after two key, international mediators signaled impatience with persistent truce violations.
The five-day extension of the cease-fire between Sudan's military and its rival, the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, was announced in a joint statement late Monday by Saudi Arabia and the United States.
"The extension will provide time for further humanitarian assistance, restoration of essential services, and discussion of a potential longer-term extension," the statement said.
The development came after both Riyadh and Washington on Sunday called out the two warring sides for specific breaches of a week-long truce that was to expire Monday evening, rather than issue another general appeal to respect agreements.
Sudan descended into chaos after fighting started in mid-April between the military, led by Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan, and the Rapid Support Forces, commanded by Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo. The fighting has killed at least 866 civilians and wounded thousands more, according to the Sudan Doctors' Syndicate, which tracks civilian casualties. The toll could be much higher, the medical group said.
The conflict has turned the capital, Khartoum, and other urban areas into battlefields, forcing nearly 1.4 million people to flee their homes to safer areas inside Sudan or to cross into neighboring countries. Early on, foreign governments raced to evacuate their diplomats and nationals as thousands of foreign residents scrambled to get out of the African nation.
For weeks, the United States and Saudi Arabia have been mediating talks between the military and the Rapid Support Forces in the Saudi port city of Jeddah. So far, there have been seven declared cease-fires, all of which have been violated to some extent.
In Sunday's statement, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia noted that the military continued to carry out airstrikes, while the Rapid Support Forces continued to occupy people's homes and to seize properties. Fuel, money, aid supplies and vehicles belonging to a humanitarian convoy were stolen, with theft occurring in each area controlled by the warring parties, the statement said.
Alan Boswell of the International Crisis Group think tank said the joint statement was meant to pressure both sides into greater compliance, at a time when the U.S. and Saudi Arabia do not have an alternative for the Jeddah talks.
"There is still no clear path to a successful cease-fire," said Boswell, who is project director for the Horn of Africa at the Crisis Group. "It's becoming clearer by the day that mediators can't afford to wait for a stable cease-fire to kick-start the wider political process needed to find a way out of the conflict."
Cameron Hudson, a former U.S. diplomat, said selectively observed cease-fires and slow-moving talks in Jeddah are likely to continue.
"Washington and Riyadh have become too invested in the success of the cease-fire and the process they have in place because failure at this point would reflect poorly on them as much as the parties," said Hudson, a senior associate with the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank.
"In the current scenario the diplomats get their cease-fire and can claim progress towards peace," he said. "The parties get to keep fighting, and the only people who lose are the 45 million Sudanese."
Late Sunday, Rapid Support Forces troops shot dead a political leader with the Umma Party, Sudan's largest, as he was trying to resolve a dispute between the paramilitary and citizens in Khartoum's neighborhood of Haj Yousif, the party said Monday.
In West Darfur province, villages and camps for displaced people were destroyed and burned to the ground in the past weeks, with tens of thousands of people, mostly women and children, fleeing their homes to neighboring Chad, said Dr. Salah Tour, who heads the Doctors' Syndicate in the province.
Nyala in South Darfur, al-Fasher in North Darfur and Zalingei in Central Darfur have experienced heavy fighting in the past few days. Houses and civilian infrastructure were destroyed and looted, forcing thousands to leave their homes, according to U.N. agencies.
Toby Harward, a coordinator with the U.N. refugee agency in Sudan, urged both parties to stop fighting in Darfur and to work with local leaders to "restore security, rule of law and social fabric" in the war-torn region.