Khartoum residents have described fierce battles with fighters roving the streets and little sign Sudan’s warring sides are respecting an agreement to protect civilians ahead of ceasefire talks due to resume in Saudi Arabia on Sunday.
Fighting has rocked Khartoum and adjoining areas as well as Geneina in the Darfur region since the warring army and Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary force agreed a “declaration of principles” on Thursday.
“It was much worse this morning compared to the past two days. You could clearly hear the tanks and the RSF were patrolling the streets more than usual,” Hani Ahmed, 28, told the Reuters news agency.
The conflict that broke out a month ago has killed hundreds of people, sent more than 200,000 into neighbouring states, displaced another 700,000 inside the country, and risks drawing in outside powers and destabilising the region.
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The two sides have battled through previous truces and have shown no sign of being willing to compromise. Although the RSF has promised to uphold Thursday’s agreement, the army has not yet commented on it.
Neither side seems able to secure a quick victory, with the army able to call on air power but the RSF dug into residential districts throughout the capital.
“We only see the army in the sky but in terms of face-to-face contact we only see the RSF. They’re the ones on the ground,” Ahmed said.
For civilians, the conflict has unleashed a nightmare of bombardment, random gunfire, home invasions and looting, amid flickering electricity supply, shortages of water and food, and little chance of medical help with injuries.
“Our neighbourhood is now completely under RSF control. They loot and harass people and wander around, always armed, taking shelter wherever they want,” said Duaa Tariq, 30, an art curator in Khartoum.
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Tariq told Reuters she hoped the talks in Jeddah could lead to a ceasefire, but was doubtful, adding, “We can’t really trust either side because they don’t have control of their soldiers on the ground.”
In the capital’s twin city of Omdurman, “houses are shaking from the force of explosions”, a witness told the AFP news agency on Saturday, reporting armed clashes.
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Representatives of both generals have been in the Saudi city of Jeddah for a week, for talks intended “to protect Sudan from any escalation that will lead to a humanitarian catastrophe”, AFP quoted a Saudi diplomat as saying on condition of anonymity.
The resumed talks in Jeddah will start by discussing ways to implement the existing agreement, then move on to a lasting ceasefire that could pave the way for a civilian government, officials said.
Saudi Arabia has invited army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan to attend the Arab League summit in Jeddah on May 19, a senior Saudi diplomat said, but he is not expected to leave Sudan for security reasons, two other diplomats in the Gulf said.
Al-Burhan was invited because he is head of Sudan’s Sovereign Council, in which his rival, RSF chief Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti, is deputy.
Saudi Arabia has had close ties to both men since the army and the RSF sent troops to help the Saudi-led coalition in its war against Houthi forces in Yemen.
Some of the worst fighting has taken place in Darfur, where a war has simmered since 2003, killing 300,000 people and displacing 2.5 million.
The Darfur Bar Association, a local rights group, said at least 77 people were killed in Geneina, where fighting flared on Friday after a two-week lull.
“Armed groups on motorcycles and RSF vehicles attacked on Friday and are continuing to commit acts of killing, looting, arson and terror,” the group said.
The RSF has denied moving from its positions in Darfur and blamed the strife there on the army and on loyalists of former President Omar al-Bashir, who was deposed in 2019, saying they had armed civilians.