Sudan army and rival forces agree to 24-hour ceasefire, reports say

Millions of Sudanese in the capital and in other major cities have been hiding in their homes

Houses have been damaged during intense fighting in Khartoum. Reuters
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A ceasefire agreed between warring parties in Sudan on Tuesday was under threat as civilians reported hearing explosions in the capital Khartoum.

The 24-hour ceasefire began at 6pm local time, but hours later gunfire continued to ring out across the city.

Fighting since Saturday has plunged the country’s capital of Khartoum and other areas of Sudan into chaos.

Millions of Sudanese in the capital and in other major cities have been hiding in their homes, caught in the crossfire as the two forces battle for control, with both generals so far insisting they will crush the other.

The death toll in three days of fighting between Sudan’s army and a powerful paramilitary, the Rapid Support Forces, Sudan’s Ministry of Health Emergency Operations Centre reports 270 people have been killed and more than 2,600 people have been injured.

Until now, neither side has paid heed to the international community’s pleas for a ceasefire.

On Tuesday, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, general director of the World Health Organisation, warned that the conflict was destroying essential services in the country, placing unbearable strain on the health service.

"Sudan’s Ministry of Health Emergency Operations Centre reports 270 people have been killed and more than 2,600 people have been injured," Dr Tedros said in an online briefing.

"The heaviest fighting is currently in Khartoum. Movement has been restricted due to insecurity, creating challenges for health workers and ambulances to reach health facilities, and putting further lives at risk."

The army said it was fighting against a “militia” that had committed “crimes against humanity” but added it was “open to peace and negotiating peace at all stages of this very dire times for our people.”

The death toll provided by the UN envoy in Khartoum is about 40 higher than the latest figures released on Tuesday by an independent medical group associated with Sudan's pro-democracy movement.

The Central Committee of Sudan's Doctors said 144 civilians had been killed and 1,409, including personnel from the warring sides, injured.

Besides Khartoum, the fighting is also taking place in cities across the vast Afro-Arab nation of about 45 million.

On Tuesday, parts of Khartoum were without water or power. The streets were deserted and most shops were closed.

Petrol stations were closed and thousands of residents were leaving town to spend the Eid Al Fitr holiday in their hometowns and villages.

Fighting resumed at first light, with residents complaining of the thud of artillery shells and heavy gunfire again ringing out across much of the city, as each side claimed to have made battlefield gains.

Clouds of black smoke hung over much of Khartoum, residents said.

A US diplomatic convoy came under fire, according to Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

He said initial reports suggested that the attack on the convoy was carried out by forces associated with the RSF. He gave no further details.

In another incident, the home of EU ambassador to Sudan, Aidan O'Hara, came under attack by unknown assailants.

Mr O'Hara was reportedly assaulted in the attack but was “OK” and had been moved to safety, according to a UN statement.

Not many details were immediately available on the two incidents which, if repeated, could lead to an exodus of foreign diplomats and UN workers from the country.

Khartoum International Airport, held by the RSF but besieged by army troops, remained closed on Tuesday for a fourth successive day.

A senior military intelligence officer told The National that RSF forces at the airport were holding civilians hostage, using them as human shields to avoid an army assault.

Gen Mohamed Dagalo, the RSF commander, was based in an area near the airport, he added. His claims could not immediately be independently verified.

On Tuesday, the RSF said it was fighting to restore the rights of the Sudanese people.

“A new revolution began on Saturday and achieved successive victories and continuing to do so to reach its noble goals, foremost of which is a civilian government that steers us towards a genuine shift to democratic rule,” it said.

The statement was the latest bid by the RSF to endear itself to the powerful pro-democracy movement.

The RSF's genesis is rooted in the feared Janjaweed militias that fought on the government's side during the Darfur civil war in the 2000s and are accused of atrocities against civilians.

It is also widely suspected to have been the main participant in the violent break-up of a protesters' sit-in camp outside the armed forces' headquarters in June 2019.

At least 100 people were killed, with some of the bodies thrown into the Nile. Scores remain missing.

The fighting is by far the worst to be witnessed by Khartoum, a city of nearly seven million people on the Blue and White Niles. Sudan has a history of military coups, some violent, but had never seen fighting of this magnitude.

The warring sides are using tanks, artillery and rockets. The military is using fighter jets to bomb RSF bases and positions across the city.

Late on Monday, the military advised residents to remain at home, warning that it was preparing to escalate its offensive against the RSF.

Neither the army nor the RSF has released casualty figures but each is believed to have lost scores of soldiers.

Sudan's army chief and military ruler, Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan, said on Monday that he was open to negotiations to end the fighting, in a shift away from his categorical refusal earlier to negotiate with the RSF and Gen Dagalo, better known by the nickname Hemedti.

The reluctance of the RSF to meet demands by Gen Al Burhan and civilian politicians that the paramilitary group integrates into the armed forces is at the heart of the conflict.

It is the only remaining obstacle to the settlement of a long-running political crisis to restore Sudan’s democratic transition, upended by a 2021 military coup led by Gen Al Burhan and Gen Dagalo.

The fighting has continued despite calls for a ceasefire by world powers and regional heavyweights including the US, UK, Saudi Arabia the UAE.

“The situation has already led to horrendous loss of life, including many civilians,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Monday, as he appealed for a ceasefire and dialogue.

The fighting began in the final 10 days of Ramadan. Eid Al Fitr, the holiday that signals the end of the holy month, falls at the end of this week.

Updated: April 18, 2023, 5:25 PM