Rival government factions in Sudan are set to begin direct talks in Saudi Arabia after three weeks of clashes in Khartoum and the southwestern Darfur region that have left hundreds dead and injured.

Representatives of the Sudanese army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Force (RSF) arrived in Jeddah for “pre-negotiation talks” aimed at establishing a lasting ceasefire that would allow aid to millions of desperate civilians trapped by the fighting.

A joint statement from the US and Saudi governments, which have brought the two sides together after several fruitless efforts, said: “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United States urge both sides to consider the interests of the Sudanese nation and the people and to actively participate in the talks for a ceasefire and an end to the conflict”.

In the town of Bahri, across the Nile, warplanes were heard overnight, followed by explosions. Clashes continue unabated with talks raising hopes of a ceasefire.