Heavy clashes rock Sudan’s capital despite truce extension

Published : 28 Apr 2023 08:30 PM

Heavy explosions and gunfire rocked Sudan’s capital, Khartoum and its twin city of Omdurman early Friday, residents said, despite the extension of a fragile truce between the county’s two top generals whose power struggle has killed hundreds. After two weeks of fighting that has turned the capital into a war zone and thrown Sudan into turmoil, a wide-ranging group of international mediators — including African and Arab nations, the U.N. and the United States — were intensifying their pressure on the rival generals to enter talks on resolving the crisis.

So far, however, they have managed to achieve only a series of fragile temporary cease-fires that failed to stop clashes but created enough of a lull for tens of thousands of Sudanese to flee to safer areas and for foreign nations to evacuate thousands of their citizens by land, air and sea.

In a sign of the persistent chaos, Turkey said one of its evacuation planes was hit by gunfire outside Khartoum with no casualties on Friday, hours after both sides accepted a 72-hour truce extension, apparently to allow foreign governments complete the evacuation of their citizens.

Fierce clashes with frequent explosions and gunfire continued Friday in Khartoum’s upscale neighborhood of Kafouri, where the military earlier used warplanes to bomb its rivals, the Rapid Support Forces, residents said. Clashes were also reported around the military’s headquarters, the Republican Palace and the area close to the Khartoum international airport. All these areas have been flashpoints since the war between the military and the RSF erupted on April 15.

In Omdurman, across the Nile from Khartoum, a protest group reported “constant explosions” in the district of Karari early Friday.

The Turkish Defense Ministry said “light weapons were fired” at a C-130 aircraft heading to Wadi Sayidna airbase on Khartoum’s northern outskirts to evacuate Turkish civilians. The plane landed safely, the ministry said in a tweet, and no personnel were injured.

The Sudanese military blamed the RSF and posted images on its Facebook page, purportedly showing a Turkish aircraft at an airfield, with marks of gunshots on its body and wing. The RSF denied firing on the plane, saying the military controls the area where the airbase is located.

Over the past 14 days of pummeling each other, the military led by Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan and the RSF led by Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, have each failed to deal a decisive blow to the other in their struggle for control of Africa’s third largest nation.

Still, world powers have struggled to get them to silence the weapons even for nominal truces. A bloc of East Africa nations has put forward a initiative for the two sides to hold talks, and a gamut of mediators are promoting the plan, including the African Union, the U.S., the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and the U.N.

The military on Thursday expressed its openness to the talks but there has been no word from the RSF. A special envoy from Burhan is to meet in Cairo on Saturday with the foreign minister of Egypt, which has close ties with the Sudanese military, according to the Egyptian Foreign Ministry.

Meanwhile, the rivals’ battles in the streets with artillery barrages, airstrikes and gunbattles have wreaked misery on millions of Sudanese caught between them. Many fled Khartoum to the northern borders with Egypt, or to the city of Port Sudan on the Red Sea. Those who remain in the capital have been living in rapidly deteriorating conditions, mostly trapped inside their homes for days. Food, water and other services have become scarce, and electricity is cut off across much of Khartoum and other cities. Fighters roam the streets in the capital and other cities, looting and destroying homes, shops, businesses and open-air markets.

Volker Türk, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, accused the RSF of removing people from their homes amid fighting in densely populated areas in the capital. He said residents continue to face “looting, extortion, acute shortages of food, water, electricity, fuel, and limited access to healthcare and cash,” according to a statement by Türk’s spokesperson, Ravina Shamdasani.

At least 512 people, including civilians and combatants, have been killed since April 15, with another 4,200 wounded, according to the Sudanese Health Ministry. The Doctors’ Syndicate, which tracks civilian casualties, has recorded at least 387 civilians killed and 1,928 wounded.

The health care system is near collapse with dozens of hospitals out of service. Multiple aid agencies have had to suspend operations and evacuate employees. .

The French military evacuated dozens of employees with the U.N. and other international aid agencies Thursday night from al-Fasher, a city in Sudan’s western Darfur region, to Chad’s capital, N’Djamena, according to U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric. U.N. envoy Volker Perthes remained in Sudan along with a small team.

In the Darfur city of Genena, the situation remained volatile Friday, a day after armed fighters rampaged through the city, battling each other, killing dozens and looting shops and homes.

“The fighting stopped but the situation is shaky,” said Dr. Salah Tour, a board member of the Doctors’ Syndicate in West Darfur province, of which Genena is the capital.

Residents emerged from their homes Friday morning to collect bodies from the streets and to assess damage of their properties, he said. Tour said the city suffers from “extremely dire shortage” of food, water, and other services amid a dayslong power outage. Health care workers were also struggling to reopen hospitals to treat wounded people, he said.