Little let-up in Khartoum fighting despite Sudan truce declaration

Published April 22, 2023
In this file photo obtained from social media, smoke rises over the city as army and paramilitaries clash in power struggle, in Khartoum, Sudan, April 15, 2023.—Instagram @lostshmi/via Reuters
In this file photo obtained from social media, smoke rises over the city as army and paramilitaries clash in power struggle, in Khartoum, Sudan, April 15, 2023.—Instagram @lostshmi/via Reuters

Sporadic shelling rang out late on Friday in Sudan’s capital even though warring factions announced a truce, while one force said it was willing to allow airports to reopen for the evacuation of foreign nationals.

The United Nations, US, UK, Japan, Switzerland, South Korea, Sweden and Spain have said they were making preparations or attempting to remove their personnel after almost a week of violence.

Forces commanded by two previously allied leaders of Sudan’s ruling council began a violent power struggle last weekend. Hundreds have died, and a nation reliant on food aid has been tipped into what the United Nations calls a humanitarian catastrophe.

Artillery fire continued in Khartoum late on Friday, a Reuters witness said, though less intense than earlier in the day. The fighting dealt the latest blow to international attempts to end the fighting.

The army and its adversary, the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), said separately they agreed to a three-day truce to enable people to celebrate the holiday of Eidul Fitr.

People gather to get bread during clashes between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the army in Khartoum North, Sudan on April 22, 2023. —Reuters/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah
People gather to get bread during clashes between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the army in Khartoum North, Sudan on April 22, 2023. —Reuters/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah

“The armed forces hope that the rebels will abide by all the requirements of the truce and stop any military moves that would obstruct it,” an army statement said.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged the combatants to honour the truce, and said Sudan’s military and civilian leadership must urgently start negotiations on a sustainable ceasefire to prevent further damage to the country.

RSF chief Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, better known as Hemedti, said early on Saturday that he had received a phone call from UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. The two “emphasised the necessity of adhering to a complete ceasefire and providing protection for humanitarian and medical workers, especially UN staff as well as regional and international organisations,” Hemedti said in a post on his official Facebook account.

The RSF said late on Friday it was ready to partially open all of Sudan’s airports so foreign governments could evacuate their nationals.

The group said in a statement it would “cooperate, coordinate and provide all facilities that enable expatriates and missions to leave the country safely.”

It was unclear to what extent the RSF controls Sudan’s airports. The Khartoum airport has been caught in the fighting with aircraft burning on the tarmac, and commercial airlines halted flights several days ago.

Soldiers and gunmen from the RSF shot at each other all day in neighbourhoods across the city, including during the call for special early morning Eid prayers, with gunfire punctuated by the thud of artillery and air strikes.

Drone footage showed smoke across Khartoum and its Nile sister cities, together one of Africa’s biggest urban areas.

The World Health Organisation on Friday reported 413 people had been killed and 3,551 injured since fighting broke out six days ago. The death toll includes at least five aid workers.

Evacuations stymied

In Washington, the State Department said without elaborating that one US citizen had been killed in Sudan.

US citizens in Sudan should not expect a US-government coordinated evacuation, deputy State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel said, adding that citizens there should make their own arrangements to stay safe.

US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said no decision had been made on airlifting US government staff out of the country, but US forces were positioned near Sudan to assist. Reuters reported on Thursday troops were sent to a US base in Djibouti.

People gather to get bread during clashes between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the army in Khartoum North, Sudan, April 22, 2023.—Reuters/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah
People gather to get bread during clashes between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the army in Khartoum North, Sudan, April 22, 2023.—Reuters/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah

“We’ve deployed some forces into theatre to ensure that we provide as many options as possible if we are called on to do something. And we haven’t been called on to do anything yet,” Austin told a news conference at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

Pakistan, meanwhile, is mulling evacuating its 1,500 citizens believed to be in Sudan.

On Saturday, Foreign Secretary Asad Majeed Khan held a follow-up virtual meeting with Pakistan’s missions in Sudan and neighbouring countries to discuss “modalities for the safe evacuation of Pakistanis from Sudan”, state media reported.

Representatives from national airline PIA, Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis and other agencies were part of the meeting, in which they discussed plans to safely and quickly evacuate Pakistani citizens from the country.

Running out of food and water

The fighting has made it difficult for Sudanese people to leave their homes to obtain supplies or join the droves departing Khartoum. “An increasing number of people are running out of food, water, and power, including in Khartoum,” the UN humanitarian office said.

Khartoum resident Mohamed Saber Turaby, 27, had wanted to visit his parents 80 km (50 miles) from the city for Eidul Fitr.

“Every time I try to leave the house, there are clashes,” he said. “There was shelling last night and now there is presence of army forces on the ground.”

A woman carries a gallon of water during clashes between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the army in Khartoum North, Sudan, April 22, 2023.—Reuters/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah
A woman carries a gallon of water during clashes between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the army in Khartoum North, Sudan, April 22, 2023.—Reuters/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah

Army troops brandishing semi-automatic weapons were greeted by cheers on one street, a video released by the military on Friday showed. Reuters verified the location of the video, in the north of the city, but could not verify when it was filmed.

Fighting extended down Medani Street, the main highway leading from Khartoum to Al Gezira state being used by those fleeing, as the RSF appeared to withdraw towards rural villages on the outskirts of Khartoum, witnesses told Reuters.

Sudan borders seven countries and sits between Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Africa’s volatile Sahel region. The hostilities risk fanning regional tensions.

The violence was triggered by disagreement over an internationally backed plan to form a new civilian government four years after the fall of autocrat Omar al-Bashir and two years after a military coup.

Both sides accuse the other of thwarting the transition.

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