- WASHINGTON POST
Civilian Toll Rises in Sudan as Military, Rivals Fight for Control
12:44 JST, April 17, 2023
NAIROBI – Gunfire and explosions rocked Sudan’s capital and other cities for a second day Sunday, residents said, as the civilian death toll from the conflict between the military and a heavily armed paramilitary force rose to 74, with “dozens” more deaths among the military, doctors there said.
The Central Committee of Sudan Doctors, which is collating casualties, said most civilians were killed in the capital city of Khartoum, but others were killed in the provinces, with the town of Nyala recording the most fatalities. Separately, three Sudanese staffers with the World Food Program were killed Saturday elsewhere in the western region of Darfur, and a U.N. document mentioned two deaths in the city of Bahri.
On Sunday, WFP Executive Director Cindy McCain said the organization was temporarily halting all operations in Sudan, where 15 million people – more than a third of the population – don’t have enough to eat.
“Threats to our teams make it impossible to operate safely and effectively in the country,” she said in a statement. The suspension will hit families especially hard ahead of the upcoming Eid, a main holiday in the Muslim calendar that follows a month of daylight fasting.
Fighting broke out Saturday morning in Sudan after weeks of rising tensions between the Rapid Support Forces, a major paramilitary group led by Vice President Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo – universally referred to as Hemedti – and the military, headed by the president, Lt. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.
The rivals, who seized power in a coup in 2021, fell out over a power-sharing agreement and a timeline to integrate the RSF into Sudan’s national forces that was supposed to usher in a return to civilian rule.
For now, the hopes that citizens may have had for a civilian-led democracy have receded. Four years ago, anger over spiraling inflation and the dream of freedom from repression brought tens of thousands of Sudanese onto the streets, with students joining housewives and doctors in a swelling movement that helped topple dictator Omar al-Bashir. A civilian government took power in 2019 but was overthrown in 2021 by a coup led by al-Burhan and Hemedti.
It’s “too early to tell” what effect the current fighting will have on Sudan’s future, said Kholood Khair, founding director of the Khartoum-based think tank Confluence Advisory. “First we need a cease-fire, then a political process to calm things between the generals. Then perhaps a civilian government.”
The United Nations said both sides had agreed to a cease-fire starting at 4 p.m. local time, but more than an hour later, two residents of Khartoum said gunfire and explosions continued.
Pictures shared by satellite imagery company Maxar showed plumes of black smoke rising Sunday morning from two incinerated planes at the international airport, and more black smoke coming from the Khartoum railway authority, ministry of energy, ministry of defense, army’s general command and Kober bridge across the Nile River.
In a statement Sunday, the army said it had captured all RSF bases in Omdurman, just outside the capital, and taken control of RSF bases in several places, including Port Sudan. The Washington Post was unable to independently verify the claim; both sides have frequently issued contradictory statements about areas they control.
“The bullets are like rain, just pelting down,” Khartoum resident and former journalist Dallia Mohamed Abdelmoniem said in a phone interview Sunday. “There’s been no letup since yesterday; if anything, it has intensified. We’ve moved to a central room which has no windows. No one has slept. The artillery and blasts are way too loud.”
Bullets had slammed into her house, and the neighborhood smelled like “hot metal and gunpowder,” she said, adding that the children do not want to eat, sleep or talk.
Some houses in the capital – where temperatures were close to 100 degrees Fahrenheit on Sunday – had lost electricity for 16 hours but had to keep the windows closed for fear of bullets, said Christine Roehrs, the country representative for the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, a German government-funded nonprofit organization. Roehrs said she was hunkered down a short distance from Khartoum International Airport and could hear “lots of aircraft flying over our heads” and that it seemed like they were being “shot at and . . . dropping ammunition. We can hear different sounds of artillery.”
Another resident sent photos of smoke rising over Khartoum and damage to buildings.
Mohamed Hamed Ashor, a resident of Nyala, said that around midday Sunday, there was heavy fighting around the airport in the east and around a military base in the west. Heavy weapons had hit residential neighborhoods, he said.
Ahmed Gouja, a reporter based in Nyala, told The Post that doctors said at least 22 of the victims had been killed Saturday, including his neighbor and two others he knew.
The area’s hospital had no electricity, Gouja said, and not enough medication. “Operations need electricity. We have lost a lot of people because of this,” he said.
Heavy clashes meant it was impossible for anyone – doctors, activists or wounded people – to reach the hospital for an update on Sunday, he said.
On Sunday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he spoke with Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud and Emirati Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, and the three diplomats “agreed it was essential for the parties to immediately end hostilities without precondition.”
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have considerable clout with Sudan, a majority-Muslim nation that desperately needs cash to revive its moribund economy.
“I urge General Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman al-Burhan and General Mohamed Hamdan Degalo to take active measures to reduce tensions,” Blinken said in a statement. The only way forward for the warring parties, he said, was to “return to negotiations that support the Sudanese people’s democratic aspirations.”
Hemedti has close ties with Russia, whose mercenary Wagner group reportedly supports his gold-mining interests, while Burhan is backed by neighboring Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous nation. Instability in Sudan has also frequently bled over into its fragile neighbors; to its west, Chad has already announced it has closed the border between the two nations.
Whoever wins will need cash – lots of it. Sudan’s economy has been battered by hyperinflation and weighed down by massive foreign debt. A draft deal that Hemedti and Burhan agreed to in December with the biggest pro-democracy protest group was supposed to outline a timeline for the RSF’s integration into Sudan’s security forces and the nation’s transition to civilian rule.
But many Sudanese have said the deal was fundamentally flawed because the long timeline for integration strengthened the RSF’s hand and the deal elevated Hemedti to Burhan’s equal. They were also angry that Hemedti and Burhan were treated as legitimate rulers.
Abdelmoniem, the former journalist, said Sudan had been a “tinderbox.”
“All the activists and civilians have been saying the whole time, do not trust these two. They are killers; they have been killing for 30 years,” she said. “This is who the international community has been placating.”
Fighting over the weekend erupted in several other cities in Sudan, including Omdurman, Bahri, Meroe, El Obeid and the towns of Al-Fashir and Nyala in Darfur. A resident of Omdurman, the twin city on the other side of the Nile from Khartoum, said his family had not slept all night because of the sounds of battle.
The RSF originally grew out of the Janjaweed, a pro-government militia accused of major rights abuses in Darfur, including rapes, village burnings and mass killings.
Mohamed Osman, the Sudan researcher for Human Rights Watch, said the fighting had also spread to eastern regions bordering Eritrea and Ethiopia. The region saw an influx of refugees two years ago after civil war broke out in northern Ethiopia, but fighting was mostly focused around RSF camps, he said.
“I’m hearing a lot of artillery shells, mortars,” he said. “The whole issue across the country is that all military forces do have their bases in some sort of proximity to civilian areas.”
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