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Sudan Group: Dozens killed in clashes between army and paramilitary forces

Sudan’s military and a powerful paramilitary force engaged in fierce fighting in the capital and elsewhere in the country on Saturday, dealing a new blow to hopes for a transition to democracy and raising fears of wider conflict.

The country’s doctors’ syndicate said at least 26 people were killed and more than 100 injured.

The clashes sparked months of tension between the armed forces and the Rapid Support Forces group. These tensions delayed an agreement with political parties to return the country to a short-lived transition to democracy, which was derailed by an October 2021 military coup.

the sudan

Smoke rises from a neighborhood in Khartoum, Sudan on April 15, 2023. Fierce clashes erupted in the capital and elsewhere in the African country between Sudan’s military and the country’s powerful paramilitary forces after weeks of escalating tensions between the two forces.

Marwan Ali/AP

After a day of heavy fighting, the military canceled talks with the RSF, instead calling for its disbandment as a “rebel militia”. The harsh language suggests that the conflict between the former allies, who jointly staged a 2021 coup, is likely to continue.

In a statement late Saturday, the military urged Sudanese to stay inside their homes because its air force was attacking RSF troops.

Sudan’s doctors’ syndicate did not immediately release details of the 26 deaths, but it said at least six of them were in the capital Khartoum and its sister city Omdurman. At least eight people were killed and 58 others were injured around Nyala, the capital city of South Darfur province in the country’s southwest.

Clashes started early Saturday morning. Heavy gunfire could be heard throughout the day in and around the capital, where the military and RSF have deployed thousands of troops since the coup.

Witnesses said fighters from both sides drove into densely populated areas in armored vehicles and opened fire from machine guns mounted on pick-up trucks. Some tanks were seen in Khartoum. The military said it had launched airstrikes and drone strikes on RSF positions in and around the capital.

As night fell, residents said they could still hear gunfire, explosions and the sound of jets flying in parts of Khartoum, including around the army headquarters and other bases.

Those in Khartoum described chaotic scenes. “Fire and explosions are everywhere,” said Amal Mohammad, a doctor at a government hospital in Omdurman. “We have never seen a war like this in Khartoum,” resident Abdel-Hamid Mustafa said.

One of the flashpoints was Khartoum International Airport. There was no official announcement to close the airport, but major airlines suspended their flights.

Saudi Arabia’s national airline said one of its planes was involved in an “accident”. The video shows that the plane caught fire. Another plane also appears to have caught fire. Flight-tracking website FlightRadar24 identified it as a Boeing 737 for Ukraine-based airline SkyUp. It did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Sudan’s doctors’ syndicate said earlier in the day that two civilians had been killed at Khartoum airport. Another person was shot dead in North Kordofan state, it said. One of their journalists was intercepted by soldiers, taken to military headquarters and beaten, the BBC reported.

Armed forces and RSF leaders blamed who started Saturday’s fighting and gave conflicting accounts of who was in control of key installations.

Sudanese military commander General Abdel-Fattah Burhan told the Qatar-based satellite news network Al Jazeera that RSF troops first “harassed” the military south of Khartoum, triggering the clashes.

Burhan accused the RSF of entering Khartoum airport and setting fire to several aircraft. He also said all strategic facilities, including the military headquarters and the Republican Palace, the seat of Sudan’s president, were under the control of his forces. He threatened to deploy more troops to Khartoum.

The head of the RSF, General Mohammad Hamdan Dagalo, accused Burhan of starting the war by surrounding the RSF troops. “This criminal, he forced this war on us,” he said.

Dagalo told Al Jazeera that he believed the war would end “within the next few days”.

The RSF alleged that its forces controlled strategic positions in Khartoum and the northern city of Mero, about 350 kilometers (215 miles) northwest of the capital. The military dismissed the claims as “false”.

The fighting comes after months of rising tensions between the generals and years of political unrest since the 2021 coup. Tensions arose from disagreements over how the RSF should be integrated into the armed forces under Dagalo’s leadership and which authority should oversee the process. Integration is a key condition of Sudan’s unsigned transition agreement with political parties.

Pro-democracy activists have blamed Burhan and Dagalo for abuses against protesters across the county over the past four years, including the deadly June 2019 demolition of a protest camp outside military headquarters in Khartoum that killed more than 120 protesters. Many groups have repeatedly called for them to be held accountable. The RSF has long been accused of atrocities linked to the Darfur conflict.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and other top diplomats expressed grave concern about the outbreak of violence. Blinken wrote on Twitter, “We urge all actors to immediately cease violence and avoid further escalation or troop buildup and continue negotiations to resolve outstanding issues.”

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres; EU top diplomat Josep Borrell; Head of the African Union Commission, Musa Faki Mahamat; Arab League chief, Ahmed Abul Geet; and Qatar have all called for a ceasefire and for both sides to return to talks. Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have called on the warring parties in Sudan to show restraint and work towards a political solution.

Former prime minister Abdallah Hamdok, who was ousted in a 2021 coup, warned of possible regional conflict if the fighting escalated. “Shooting must stop immediately,” he said in a video appeal to both sides posted on his Twitter account.

Cameron Hudson, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think-tank and a former US diplomat, said the fighting could become wider and longer, calling for the US to form a coalition of regional countries to put pressure on regional leaders. Military and RSF to de-escalate.

UN envoy for Sudan Volker Perthes and Saudi ambassador to Sudan Ali bin Hassan Jafar contacted Dagalo and Burhan to try to end the violence, said a UN official who asked not to be named for internal discussions.

Chad has announced that it is closing its land border with Sudan.

Clashes also took place in other areas across the country, including in Uttar Pradesh, the conflict-torn Darfur region and the strategic coastal city of the Red Sea port of Sudan, a military official said on condition of anonymity because he was not present. Allowed to brief the media.

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