Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Sudan Fighting Continues for Second Day


Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, has been rocked by fierce fighting between the armed forces and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) for two days, leaving dozens dead. The clashes, which began on Saturday, have sparked international outcry and regional concern, with neighbouring countries Egypt and Chad closing their borders. It is the first such outbreak since both forces joined together to remove Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir in 2019. The fighting was sparked by a disagreement over the integration of the RSF into the military as part of a transition towards civilian rule.

Witnesses reported deafening explosions and intense gunfire in Khartoum’s densely-populated northern and southern suburbs. Tanks rumbled on the streets and fighter jets roared overhead. Fighting continued after nightfall on Sunday, with fears of a prolonged conflict that could plunge the country into deeper chaos, dashing long-held hopes for a transition to civilian-led democracy. After Saturday’s killing of three World Food Programme workers, the agency said it was suspending operations in the impoverished country.

The pro-democracy Central Committee of Sudan Doctors reported 56 civilians killed as well as “tens of deaths” among security forces, and around 600 wounded. Late Sunday afternoon, the army said they had “agreed to a United Nations proposal to open safe passage for humanitarian cases”, including the evacuation of wounded, for three hours which ended at 17:00 GMT. RSF confirmed the measure and both sides maintained their right to “respond in the event of transgressions” from the other side.

Despite the pause, heavy gunfire could still be heard in central Khartoum near the airport, and dense black smoke billowed from the surrounding area. The three-hour humanitarian ceasefire announced by the warring sides had come to an end. Fighting also erupted in the western Darfur region and in the eastern border state of Kassala.

The UN said three employees of its World Food Programme (WFP) had been killed on Saturday in clashes in North Darfur and announced a “temporary halt to all operations in Sudan”. After their deaths as well those of as other civilians, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for “justice without delay”. He had earlier warned that an escalation in the fighting would “further aggravate the already precarious humanitarian situation”. The UN says one-third of Sudan’s population is in need of humanitarian aid.

Created in 2013, the RSF emerged from the so-called Janjaweed militia that then-President al-Bashir unleashed against non-Arab ethnic minorities in Darfur a decade earlier, drawing accusations of war crimes. The RSF’s planned integration into the regular army was a key element of talks to finalise a deal that would hopefully restore Sudan’s civilian transition and end the political-economic crisis sparked by the military’s 2021 coup by al-Burhan and Dagalo.

Appeals to end the fighting have come from across the region and the globe, including the United States, Britain, China, the European Union and Russia, while Pope Francis said he was following the events “with concern” and urged dialogue. After a meeting on the situation in Sudan, the African Union said a senior official would “immediately” travel there on a ceasefire mission.

The October 2021 coup triggered international aid cuts and sparked near-weekly protests met by a deadly crackdown. Al-Burhan, who rose through the ranks under the three-decade rule of the now-jailed al-Bashir, has said the coup was “necessary” to include more factions in politics. Dagalo later called the coup a “mistake” that failed to bring about change and reinvigorated remnants of al-Bashir’s governments removed by the army in 2019 following mass protests.

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