Gunfire and heavy artillery fire persisted in parts of Sudan’s capital Khartoum on Saturday, residents said, despite the extension of a ceasefire between the country’s two top generals, including the battle for power killed hundreds and sent thousands fleeing for their lives.
With ordinary Sudanese caught in the crossfire, the civilian death toll rose to 411 on Saturday, according to the Sudanese Doctors Syndicate, which monitors casualties. In some areas of the capital and surrounding areas, residents reported that shops were reopening and normality was gradually returning as the scale of fighting waned after the fragile truce. But in other areas, terrified residents reported explosions thundering around them and fighters ransacking homes.
Now in its third week, the fighting has injured 2,023 civilians, the union added, although the true toll is expected to be much higher. Sudan’s health ministry put the total death toll, including fighters, at 528, with 4,500 injured. In the city of Genena, the provincial capital of war-torn West Darfur, escalating violence has claimed 89 lives, the Doctors’ Union said.
Khartoum, a city of some 5 million people, has become a front line in the bitter conflict between General Abdel Fattah Burhan, the commander of the Sudanese army, and General Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, who heads the powerful paramilitary group known as the Rapid Support Forces. The outbreak of violence has dashed once euphoric hopes of a democratic transition in Sudan after a popular uprising helped topple former dictator Omar al-Bashir.
Foreign countries continued to evacuate their citizens while hundreds of thousands of Sudanese fled across borders. The first convoy organized by the United States to evacuate hundreds of American citizens from the conflict reached the coastal city of Port Sudan on Saturday after a dangerous overland journey escorted by armed drones.
Meanwhile, Britain was ending its evacuation flights on Saturday, after demand for seats on planes dwindled. The United Arab Emirates announced on Saturday that it had started evacuating its own citizens as well as nationals of 16 other countries.
More than 50,000 Sudanese refugees – mostly women and children – have passed through Chad, Egypt, South Sudan and the Central African Republic, the United Nations said, raising fears of regional instability. Fighting and ethnic unrest have plagued South Sudan and the Central African Republic for years, while a 2021 coup derailed Chad’s own democratic transition.
Those who escape the fighting in Khartoum face more dangers on the way to safety. The route to Port Sudan, where ships are evacuating people via the Red Sea, has proven long, exhausting and risky. Hatim el-Madani, a former journalist, said paramilitary fighters were stopping refugees at roadblocks outside Khartoum, demanding they hand over their phones and valuables.
“There is an outlaw, bandit-like nature to the RSF,” he said, referring to Dagalo’s Rapid Support Forces. “They don’t have a supply line in place. It could get worse in the days to come. »
Airlifts from the country amid chaotic fighting have also posed problems, with a Turkish evacuation plane even being hit by gunfire outside Khartoum on Friday.
On Saturday – despite a ceasefire extended under heavy international pressure early on Friday – clashes continued around the presidential palace, the headquarters of the state television station and a military base in Khartoum, residents said. The battles sent thick columns of black smoke over the city’s skyline.
But in other areas, residents reported signs that the ceasefire had taken hold.
“We don’t hear the bombs like we used to, so hopefully that means they’re going back to a political process,” said Osman Mirgany, columnist and editor of al-Tayar daily, who said it was on. enough Friday to return home to Khartoum after seeking refuge in a remote village.
But the people of Khartoum are forced to live side by side with armed fighters. Many RSF militants settled in civilian houses and took over shops and hospitals in the capital. The paramilitary group even turned Mirgany’s press room into a makeshift base, he said. Residents also have to deal with insufficient electricity and running water, among other basic supplies.
“Over the past 14 days, we have suffered from a lack of everything,” Mirgany said.
Residents of the city of Omdurman, west of Khartoum, have been waiting for at least three days for fuel, complicating their evacuation plans.
UN relief coordinator Martin Griffiths said UN offices in Khartoum, as well as the towns of Genena and Nyala in Darfur had been attacked and looted. The main hospital in Genena was also razed in the fighting, the Sudanese health ministry said.
“This is unacceptable – and prohibited by international law,” Griffiths said.
Over the past 15 days, the generals have failed to deliver a decisive blow to each other in their fight for control of Africa’s third largest nation. The army appeared to have the upper hand in the fighting, with its monopoly on air power, but its claims of advances were impossible to confirm.
“Soon the Sudanese state with its entrenched institutions will emerge victorious and attempts to hijack our country will be aborted forever,” the Sudanese military said on Saturday.
Both parties to the conflict have a long history of human rights abuses. The RSF grew out of Janjaweed militias, which were blamed for widespread atrocities when the government deployed them to quell a rebellion in Sudan’s western Darfur region in the early 2000s.
A unit of the Sudanese Armed Forces, known as the Central Reserve Police, has been sanctioned by the United States for serious human rights abuses against Sudanese pro-democracy protesters.
Accusations of rape, torture and other abuses against protesters committed by the unit first surfaced in 2021, after Burhan and Dagalo joined forces in a military coup that toppled a civilian government. Sudan’s interior ministry on Saturday confirmed the deployment of central reserve police to Khartoum, posting photos of the fighters aboard heavy machine guns mounted on pickup trucks.
Former Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, ousted in the 2021 coup, called on the international community at a conference in Nairobi, Kenya to press for an immediate end to the conflict. He warned that a full-scale civil war in the strategically located country would have consequences not only for Sudan but for the world.
“God forbid if Sudan were to go into a real civil war…it’s a huge and very diverse country…it would be a nightmare for the world,” he said.
But the generals have so far publicly rejected attempts to reach a compromise. Regional mediators were unable to travel to Khartoum due to the fighting.
African Union chairman Moussa Faki said he would still try to send peacekeepers to the country.
“I’m ready to go there myself, even by road,” Faki said. “We ask the two generals to create the conditions so that we can go to Khartoum.”
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