The EU on Tuesday expressed grave concern about the humanitarian situation in many parts of Sudan, particularly in western Upper Nile (Unity/Wahdah State), Eastern Equatoria and Bahr al-Ghazal - all in the south and affected by serious fighting.
Noting the universal humanitarian principle that "civilian populations must be protected from the consequences of military operations", the EU called for "unrestricted, immediate and unlimited access by international humanitarian agencies" to assist these populations, whether directly or indirectly affected by the conflict.
For the past three months, western Upper Nile has been one of the areas most affected by flight denials to aid agencies, while access has also been denied in wide areas of Bahr al-Ghazal, Equatoria and Bahr al-Jabal, according to aid workers. Humanitarian actors working in Sudan estimate that between 150,000 and 300,000 people were displaced in western Upper Nile alone between January and April.
Humanitarian agencies - currently engaged in a five-day "stop-gap intervention" in western Upper Nile - warn that a serious humanitarian crisis is in the offing in this region if fighting continues and the aid community cannot secure access.
A joint meeting of donors to Sudan and aid agencies in early June strongly suggested that access to such key locations should be maintained for long enough to allow "meaningful interventions", and not just hit-and-run activities, but agencies are stuck for the moment with what access they can secure, according to humanitarian sources.
The UN and the US have made strong calls for unimpeded humanitarian access in recent months - the latter remarking at a US Congressional hearing on 5 June that there was "an inextricable link" between its peace efforts and more immediate gains on humanitarian access and respect for human rights.
Donors to Sudan and aid agencies operating under the Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS) umbrella came out in early June with "a clear and unambiguous message" to all parties in Sudan to ensure "unimpeded humanitarian access to all populations in need". In particular, they called for increased access to key locations in western Upper Nile and Eastern Equatoria, before the imminent arrival of the rainy season, which will hamper aid interventions.
The joint donors' meeting noted "an increasing number of instances" where access and humanitarian principles were being subverted by administrative procedures, and the impression that the intention was to add restrictions, create ambiguity and "deny people in need".
In its statement on Tuesday, the EU also welcomed the opening of substantive peace negotiations in Kenya last week (17 June) - expected to last several weeks - between the government of Sudan and the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SDLM/A), under the auspices of the regional Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD).
It called on the government and SPLM/A to decisively engage in the IGAD peace process, and reiterated its appeal "for a comprehensive ceasefire as part of a comprehensive and just peace negotiation process".
Recent months have seen the US, in particular, seek to inject new life into the IGAD peace process (which has shown little success over the years) in conjunction with Kenya, leading the process from within IGAD, as well as the UK, Norway, Switzerland, Egypt and other states.
"The consensus among the parties to the conflict and countries coordinating with the US is that instead of introducing an entirely new proposal, peace negotiations will only develop momentum and succeed if they are undertaken through an existing framework to which both parties are agreed in principle," US Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Walter H. Kansteiner stated in a recent outline of American policy on Sudan.
The IGAD framework was "the only vehicle for peace that fits this need at this time" and - with several key points from a separate Egyptian-Libyan Initiative (ELI) included - was "the strongest and most viable forum for peace discussions", he said.
More importantly, Kansteiner added, "the IGAD framework is the only agreement signed by both parties to the conflict that resolves and acknowledges critical issues like self-determination for the south, religion and state, and governance".
The EU stated on Tuesday that it was ready to support the process of economic and social development through linkages between relief, rehabilitation and development with a view to alleviating poverty, "subject to progress toward a peace settlement".
After nine years of trying, and failing, to resolve the Sudanese civil war, IGAD is trying to steer a new course, with the Kenyan special envoy, Gen Lazarus Sumbeiywo, pursuing a strict agenda and time frame "in a do-or-die negotiating effort", according to John Prendergast, co-director of the Africa programme of the International Crisis Group (ICG).
Negotiating peace in Sudan is beyond the scope of IGAD alone, and will require greater commitment, effort and leverage on the part of the broader international community, in close partnership with regional states, if it is to succeed, he said.
"In the absence of such a commitment, the best chance in years to end a generation of war will surely slip away," Prendergast told the US Congress on 5 June.