Sudan rocked by power struggle as Army and rivals clash


Fierce fighting between Sudan’s military and a powerful paramilitary force has erupted in the capital and other parts of the country, dealing a new blow to hopes for a transition to democracy and raising fears of a wider conflict. The Sudanese Doctors’ Union reported that at least 25 people were killed and 183 others were injured in clashes across the country on Saturday, but it was unable to determine if all the casualties were civilians.

The clashes followed months of heightened tensions between Sudan’s army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary group, which had delayed a deal with political parties to get the country back to its short-lived transition to democracy, which was derailed by an October 2021 military coup. After a day of heavy fighting, the military ruled out negotiations with the RSF, instead calling for the dismantling of what it called a “rebellious militia”.

Witnesses said fighters from both sides fired from armoured vehicles and from machine guns mounted on pick-up trucks in fighting in densely populated areas. Some tanks were seen in Khartoum. The military said it launched attacks from planes and drones at RSF positions in and around the capital.

One of the flashpoints was Khartoum International Airport. There was no formal announcement that the airport was closed, but major airlines suspended their flights. Saudi Arabia’s national airline said one of its aircraft was involved in what it called “an accident”. Video showed the plane on fire on the tarmac. Another plane also appeared to have caught fire.

The Sudanese Doctors’ Union said two people were killed at Khartoum airport, four in neighbouring Omdurman, eight in the city of Nyala, six in the city of El Obeid and five in El Fasher. Clashes for control of various airports had intensified throughout the day, as well as at other key facilities.

The leaders of the armed forces and the RSF, who were partners in the 2021 coup, traded blame for starting Saturday’s fighting and offered conflicting accounts of who was in control of key installations. General Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan, commander of Sudan’s military, accused the RSF of attacking his residence at the army headquarters and of entering Khartoum airport and setting fire to some planes. He also said all strategic facilities, including the military’s headquarters and the Republican palace, the seat of Sudan’s presidency, were under his forces’ control. He threatened to deploy more troops to Khartoum from across the country.

The head of the RSF, General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, accused al-Burhan of starting the battle by surrounding RSF troops. He told Al Jazeera the battle would pave the way to a peaceful solution and that “in the next few days” it would be over. The RSF alleged that its forces controlled strategic locations in Khartoum and the northern city of Merowe some 350km northwest of the capital. The military dismissed the claims as “lies”.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other top diplomats expressed concern over the outbreak of violence. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the European Union’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, the head of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, the Arab League chief, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, and Qatar all called for a ceasefire and for both parties to return to negotiations to settle their dispute.

The fighting came after months of escalating tensions between the generals and years of political unrest after the 2021 coup. Former Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok warned of a possible regional conflict if the fighting escalates. Volker Perthes, the UN envoy for Sudan, and the Saudi ambassador in Sudan, Ali Bin Hassan Jaffar, were in contact with Dagalo and Burhan to try to end the violence.

The clashes centred in Khartoum but also took place in other areas across the country, including the Northern province, the conflict-ravaged Darfur region, and the strategic coastal city of Port Sudan on the Red Sea. The tensions stemmed from a disagreement about how the RSF, headed by Dagalo, should be integrated into the armed forces and what authority should oversee the process. The merger is a key condition of Sudan’s unsigned transition agreement with political groups.