Sudan’s paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) said on Saturday that it had taken control of Khartoum international airport, as clashes erupted with the army.

Gunfire could be heard in several parts of Khartoum and eyewitnesses said gunfire was also heard in adjoining cities.

A Reuters journalist saw cannons and armoured vehicles deployed in the streets and heard the sound of heavy weapons fire in the vicinity of the headquarters of both the army and RSF.

The RSF said in a statement it had been able to take control of Khartoum international airport in the capital and the Merowe military base in the north of the country.

On Saturday there was a heavy exchange of gunfire in Merowe, eyewitnesses told Reuters.

A statement by the RSF on Saturday called the army’s actions a “brute assault” and called for it to be condemned. It said that the RSF had been in contact with local and international mediators to inform them.

Earlier, the RSF said the army had surrounded one of its bases and opened fire with heavy weapons.

FO ‘closely monitoring’ security situation

The Foreign Office said later in the day that it was “closely monitoring” the security situation in Sunday.

It said there were around a thousand Pakistani students in Khartoum and the country’s mission there was in contact with them to ensure their safety.

Sudan air force conducting ‘operations’

The Sudanese air force is conducting operations to confront the powerful paramilitary RSF, the army said in a statement on Saturday, as clashes broke out across the country.

Footage from broadcasters showed a military aircraft in the sky above the capital Khartoum, but Reuters could not independently confirm the material.

Clashes at Sudanese state TV headquarters - anchor

Clashes are taking place at the headquarters of Sudan’s state TV, an anchor who appeared on the screen briefly said on Saturday

Gunshots could be heard in the background, a Reuters witness said.

The RSF, which together with the army overthrew long-ruling autocrat Omar al-Bashir in 2019, began redeploying units in Khartoum and elsewhere amid talks last month on its integration into the military under a transition plan that would lead to new elections.

Saudi plane comes under fire: airline

While clashes were under way, a passenger plane preparing to take off from Sudan for Saudi Arabia came under fire, the kingdom’s flag carrier said.

The Airbus A330 bound for Saudi Arabia “was exposed to gunfire damage … with guests and crew on board” ahead of its scheduled departure to Riyadh, Saudia said in a statement.

“It has been confirmed that all members of the aircraft’s cabin crew have safely arrived at the Saudi Embassy in Sudan,” the statement said.

“Meanwhile aircraft flying over Sudan have returned and all other flights to and from Sudan have been suspended in order to preserve the safety of the guests and crew.”

Background

The violence followed days of tension between the army and the RSF, a powerful paramilitary group headed by General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, better known as Hemedti.

This sparked concern about a confrontation that would undermine long-running efforts to return Sudan to civilian rule after power struggles and military coups.

Hemedti had put himself at the forefront of a planned transition toward democracy, unsettling fellow military rulers and triggering a mobilisation of troops in the capital Khartoum.

Hemedti, a former militia leader in Darfur, has been deputy leader of the ruling Sovereign Council headed by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan since 2019.

A confrontation between his forces and the army could spell prolonged strife across a vast country already dealing with economic breakdown and flare-ups of tribal violence.


Additional input from AFP

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