Sudan’s army and rival force that has killed at least 27 people
KHARTUM, Sudan (AP) – The Sudanese military and a powerful paramilitary force fought fiercely in the capital and other areas on Saturday, reportedly killing more than 200 people and wounded while dealing a new blow to hopes for a transition to democracy and Fears of a broader fueled conflict.
At least 27 people were killed and more than 180 injured, the country’s medical consortium said late Saturday. But the Sudan Doctor’s Syndicate added that in the western region of Darfur and in the northern city of Merowe, there are many uncounted casualties, including military and RSF personnel.
The clashes ended months of heightened tensions between the armed forces and the Rapid Support Forces group. These tensions had delayed one act with political parties to steer the country back towards its short-lived transition to democracy, derailed by a military coup in October 2021.
After a day of fierce fighting, the military ruled out negotiations with the RSF, instead demanding the disbandment of what it called a “rebellious militia”. The harsh language signaled that the conflict between the former allies, who collectively orchestrated the 2021 coup, was likely to continue.
The Sudan Doctor’s Syndicate did not immediately release details of where the 27 deaths occurred but said at least six of them were in the capital Khartoum and its twin city Omdurman. At least eight were killed and 58 injured near Nyala, the capital of South Darfur province in the southwest.
Fighting broke out early Saturday. Throughout the day, the sound of heavy gunfire could be heard in neighborhoods in and around the capital, where the military and RSF had massed tens of thousands of soldiers since the coup.
Witnesses said fighters from both sides fired from armored vehicles and from machine guns mounted on pickup trucks in densely populated areas. Some tanks were seen in Khartoum. The military said it had launched plane and drone attacks on RSF positions in and around the capital.
The militants said in a statement late Saturday that their troops had seized all RSF bases in Omdurman, while residents reported heavy airstrikes on paramilitary positions in and around the capital continued into the night. Gunshots and explosions could still be heard in several parts of Khartoum, they said.
Those in Khartoum described chaotic scenes. “Fire and explosions are everywhere,” said Amal Mohamed, a doctor at a public hospital in Omdurman. “We have never seen such battles in Khartoum,” said local resident Abdel-Hamid Mustafa.
One of the hot spots was Khartoum International Airport. There was no official announcement that the airport was closing, but major airlines grounded their flights.
Saudi Arabia’s national airline said one of its planes was involved in what it called an “accident”. The video showed the plane on fire on the runway. Another plane is said to have caught fire. Flight tracking website FlightRadar24 identified it as a Boeing 737 for SkyUp, a Kiev, Ukraine-based airline. It did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Sudan Medical Syndicate said earlier in the day that two civilians were killed at Khartoum airport. Another man was shot dead in North Kordofan state, it said. The BBC said one of its reporters was stopped by soldiers, taken to military headquarters and beaten.
Armed Forces and RSF leaders traded blame over who started Saturday’s fighting and gave conflicting accounts of who was in control of key facilities.
General Abdel Fattah BurhanCommander of Sudan’s military, told Qatar-based satellite news channel Al Jazeera that RSF troops first “harassed” the military south of Khartoum, sparking the clashes.
Burhan accused the RSF of breaking into Khartoum airport and setting fire to some planes. He also said that all strategic facilities, including the military headquarters and the Republican Palace, home of the Sudanese presidency, are under the control of his armed forces. He threatened to send more troops to Khartoum.
RSF leader General Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo accused Burhan of starting the fight through surrounding RSF troops. “That criminal, he forced this fight on us,” he said.
Dagalo told Al Jazeera he believed the fighting would be over “in the next few days.”
The RSF claimed its forces controlled strategic locations in Khartoum and the northern city of Merowe about 350 kilometers (215 miles) northwest of the capital. The military dismissed the claims as “lies.”
The fighting comes after months of escalating tensions between the generals and years of political unrest since the 2021 coup. The tensions stem from a disagreement over how the Dagalo-led RSF should be integrated into the armed forces and which agency should oversee the process. The merger is a key condition of Sudan’s unsigned interim agreement with political groups.
Pro-democracy activists have blamed Burhan and Dagalo for abuses against protesters across the county over the past four years, including the deadly break-up of a protest camp outside military headquarters in Khartoum in June 2019, which killed over 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 Antony Blinken and other senior diplomats have expressed grave concern at the outbreak of violence. “We urge all actors to stop the violence immediately and avoid further escalation or troop mobilization and to continue talks to resolve outstanding issues,” Blinken wrote on Twitter.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres; the European Union’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell; the head of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat; Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit; and Qatar all called for a ceasefire and the return of both parties to negotiations. Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates urged combatants in Sudan to exercise restraint and work towards a political solution.
Former Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, who was ousted in the 2021 coup, warned of a possible regional conflict if fighting escalated. “The shooting must stop immediately,” he said in a video appeal to both sides posted on his Twitter account.
Cameron Hudson, a senior think tank at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a former US diplomat, said fighting could get broader and longer, and urged the United States to form a coalition of regional countries to pressure leaders the US exercise military and RSF to de-escalate.
Volker Perthes, the UN envoy to Sudan, and Saudi ambassador to Sudan Ali Bin Hassan Jaffar have been in contact with Dagalo and Burhan to try to end the violence, a UN official said, asking not to be identified to discuss internal deliberations.
Chad announced it would close its land borders with Sudan.
The clashes also took place in other areas across the country, including the northern province, the conflict-ravaged Darfur region and the strategic Red Sea coastal city of Port Sudan, said a military official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he didn’t was entitled to inform the media.
Associated Press writers Samy Magdy in Cairo and Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates contributed to this report.