Shelling and heavy artillery fire continued in parts of Sudan’s capital Khartoum on Saturday, residents said, althoughBetween the country’s two top generals, whose battle for power has left hundreds dead and thousands fleeing for their lives. Meanwhile, the first operation to free U.S. civilians trapped in Sudan is underway, with hundreds of Americans preparing to escape to safety.
“The U.S. government has undertaken extensive efforts to contact U.S. citizens in Sudan and to facilitate the departure of those who wish to leave,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement. “We have sent messages to every US citizen in Sudan who contacted us during the crisis and provided specific instructions for those interested in traveling by land to join the convoy.”
Since then, more than 500 people have been killed and thousands injured, leading to expulsions from Africa’s third-largest country. CBS News confirmed the Americans left the capital Khartoum on Friday in a convoy of 18 buses, beginning a drive that took 12 hours to the coast. They plan to cross the Red Sea to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia.
Khartoum, a city of about 5 million people, has been transformed into a front line in the escalating conflict between General Abdel Fattah Burhan, commander of Sudan’s military, and General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, who leads the powerful paramilitary group known as Sudan. Rapid Support Force, which has dashed the once buoyant hopes of Sudan’s democratic transition.
Foreign countries continued to evacuate diplomatic staff and citizens while thousands of Sudanese fled across the border to Chad and Egypt. Up to 20,000 refugees – mostly women and children – have crossed the western border into Chad, the United Nations said, a country that has struggled for stability since its own coup two years ago.
Those who escape the war in Khartoum face more obstacles on their way to safety. The overland journey to Port Sudan, where ships then evacuated people across the Red Sea, proved long and dangerous. Hatim al-Madani, a former journalist, said paramilitary fighters were blocking the refugees’ roads outside the capital, demanding they hand over their phones and valuables.
“The RSF militia has a lawless, bandit-like nature,” he said, referring to the Rapid Support Force. “It indicates that they don’t have supply lines in place and it could get worse in the coming days.”
Airlifts out of the country have also been challenged, with a Turkish evacuation plane hit by gunfire outside Khartoum on Friday.
Clashes continued around the presidential palace, the headquarters of the state broadcaster and a military base in Khartoum on Saturday – despite a ceasefire extended for another 72 hours under heavy international pressure early Friday, residents said. The battles sent thick columns of black smoke into the city’s skies.
PO Photo by Aaron Hoare/AP
In some areas near the capital, including Omdurman, residents reported that some shops were reopening as the level of fighting subsided, with both sides seeking to observe a tenuous ceasefire. But in other areas, residents who took shelter in their homes after hearing the explosions said fighters were leaving their homes, terrorizing people and stealing what they could find.
Now in its third week, the fighting has left parts of Khartoum without electricity and running water. Those sheltering at home say they are running out of food and basic supplies. Residents of the town of Omdurman, west of Khartoum, said on Saturday they had been waiting three days for fuel – complicating their plans to escape.
UN relief coordinator Martin Griffiths said the UN office in Khartoum, as well as the towns of Jenina and Nyala in Darfur, had been attacked and looted. “This is unacceptable – and prohibited by international law,” he said.
Pushing each other over the past 15 days, the generals have failed to deal a decisive blow to each other in their struggle for control of Africa’s third-largest state. The military, with a monopoly on air power, appeared to be at the forefront of the war, but their claims of progress were impossible to confirm.
“Soon, the Sudanese state with its well-established institutions will emerge victorious, and the attempt to hijack our country will be canceled forever,” Sudan’s military said on social media on Saturday.
Many hospitals in Khartoum and across the country have closed.
Few expected an end to the conflict anytime soon.
“Both sides are digging in,” said al-Madani, a former journalist. “This war can go on for a long time.”