Sudan’s violence escalates

StarAvis Desk
StarAvis Desk
8 Min Read
Sudanese army soldiers, loyal to Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan, at the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) base in the Red Sea city of Port Sudan. AFP

Neither side shows any willingness to heed appeals from the US, UK, African Union, and Arab states as the death toll nears 100

Rival government factions in Sudan have rejected calls for a ceasefire. They have intensified their battle to control the vast and strategically important country as diplomatic efforts to end the conflict gather momentum.

At least 97 people have been killed, and many hundreds wounded as clashes had spread since Saturday when violence erupted between army units loyal to Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the head of Sudan’s transitional governing Sovereign Council, and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), led by Gen Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti, who is deputy head of the council.

Burhan raised the stakes in the violence on Monday, ordering the dissolution of the RSF, which he called a “rebellious group.” For his part, Dagalo called Burhan “a radical Islamist who is bombing civilians from the air.”

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Fighting in Khartoum has centered on critical sites such as the international airport, presidential palace, and the army headquarters, where Burhan is thought to be based. Military jets flew low over the capital through much of Monday as repeated bouts of firing and shelling continued there and in Omdurman, Khartoum’s sister city across the Nile. Witnesses have reported dozens of bodies in one central neighborhood of the capital, and hundreds of students remain trapped by the fighting in schools.

Hospitals have been particularly affected, with the fighting badly disrupting essential supplies. Hundreds of patients have been evacuated while medical staff works to move others from intensive care or dialysis units to places of safety.

“We had to move them to the isolation centers along with 70 doctors and nurses, all trapped here with no oxygen for the chest patients, and that’s dangerous … The oxygen we have is from the time of the pandemic, and it’s limited,” one nurse said.

A shell hit one Khartoum teaching hospital on Monday morning, injuring several patients and relatives. Another hospital has appealed for fuel to keep generators running. According to activists in the UK, a dentist taking her sick father for treatment at another facility was killed.

A doctor who spoke to the Guardian from the basement of the Khartoum teaching hospital described heavy shelling and orders from army soldiers to leave the premises.

“We are basically in the crossfire between the RSF and the army. They are firing at each other from their positions, and we are in between.”

The doctor, who asked to remain anonymous, described an acute need for food and drinking water.

Dr. Sara Ibrahim Abdelgalil, a UK-based Sudanese democracy activist in touch with many health professionals in Khartoum, said: “It is awful. The real issue is that the armed conflict is inside residential areas. We don’t know how many casualties. Neither the RSF nor the army is good protection of health workers, patients, humanitarians, the Red Crescent, or ambulances, and there’s no suggestion that they will do in the future.”

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In some parts of the city, informal neighborhood committees have taken over the distribution of painkillers and rehydration salts to ill children who cannot be taken for treatment.

“Three families have contacted me about sick kids who can’t get medical attention. They can’t even get paracetamol to bring the temperature down,” Abdelgalil said.

With replacements unable to risk the city streets, many staff have been on duty since Friday and are exhausted.

Aid workers in remote parts of Sudan also reported tensions or violence. One based on the eastern border with Ethiopia described the regular army overwhelming a small RSF contingent and seizing their base amid sporadic shooting. Officials also reported fighting in the east, including Kassala and El Gadaref.

There were also reports of clashes at Merowe, 185 miles (300km) north of Khartoum, and in many parts of the Darfur region.

The more heavily armed regular military loyal to Burhan appeared to have the upper hand in the fighting over the weekend. Still, both sides make claims and counterclaims that are impossible to verify.

“The army seems to be doing well, but the RSF have lots of men, weapons, and vehicles so that they could hold out for an extended time, and that’s the scary thought. We don’t know,” said one aid worker based in El Gedaref, southeast of Khartoum.

The conflict threatens to plunge one of Africa’s biggest and most strategically important countries into chaos. Analysts say only pressure from “heavyweight” intermediaries will have a chance of ending the fighting.

The US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, has called for an immediate ceasefire and a return to talks to put Sudan back on track to a civilian-led government. His British counterpart, James Cleverly, said a return to negotiations was the “ultimate desired outcome.”

The African Union’s top council has called for an immediate ceasefire “without conditions.” At the same time, Arab states with stakes in Sudan – Qatar, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates – made similar appeals. The UN security council was to discuss the crisis on Monday.

Neither of the factions fighting for control of Sudan and its precious resources has shown a willingness to compromise.

Burhan’s followers have called for the dismantling of the RSF. At the same time, Dagalo told the satellite news network Al Arabiya that he had ruled out negotiation and called on Burhan to surrender.

The roots of the conflict lie in the divide-and-rule strategy pursued by the veteran Islamist autocrat Omar al-Bashir, who took power in 1989. The RSF was drawn from the feared Janjaweed militia accused of genocide in Darfur and acted as a counterweight to the regular army, whose loyalty Bashir doubted.

After months of widespread mass protests, the two forces joined in ousting Bashir in 2019, but their relations remained tense. Many analysts and diplomats in Khartoum predicted a violent contest after a military coup in October 2021 that derailed a gradual transition to civilian rule.

Sudan is in a deep economic crisis, with soaring inflation and massive unemployment. Khalid Omar, a spokesperson for the pro-democracy bloc that negotiated with the generals in recent months, warned that the conflict could lead to war and the country’s collapse.


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