Sudan's warring sides trade blame for civilian deaths as fighting rages on

Army says Rapid Support Forces attacked diplomats and civilians, while paramilitary group calls for Gen Al Burhan's arrest

People flee their neighbourhoods amid fighting between the army and paramilitaries in Khartoum on April 19, 2023, following the collapse of a 24-hour truce.  (Photo by AFP)
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The heads of Sudan's warring army and Rapid Support Forces traded blame for civilian casualties and chaos, vowing to fight to the end as clashes entered their sixth day.

About 300 people have been killed and more than 3,000 wounded as clashes rocked Khartoum and other parts of the country, overwhelming most hospitals and trapping children in schools.

“I pray hard for God to spare us,” said Mohammed Al Zaki, a father of five who lives in Omdurman, Khartoum's twin city across the Nile.

“We had never seen anything like this and we are unable to cope. People are shedding tears of blood.”

Others called on the global community to end the fighting.

“Where is the international community? Why are they not working to end this?” asked Mohammed Mostafa, a 38-year-old bank employee, also from Omdurman.

“Everyone is suffering. We have had no water or power.”

Army chief and military ruler Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan told The Financial Times that the RSF has engaged in “indiscriminate violence” and claimed that a large part of the paramilitary force was “out of control”.

Gen Al Burhan also blamed the RSF for the death of three World Food Programme workers.

Other NGO workers as well as diplomats have not been spared the violence.

On Monday, the EU ambassador to Sudan was assaulted at his home, after an attack on a diplomatic US convoy was condemned as “reckless and irresponsible” by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

RSF leader Gen Mohamed Dagalo, meanwhile, said Gen Al Burhan was leading a “radical gang” attacking non-combatants. He has called the army chief a “liar” and a “war criminal”.

“We’re ready for him to hit us, but not the civilians. We ask God that we gain control and arrest him and bring him to justice,” said Gen Dagalo, more commonly known by the nickname Hemedti.

In an interview with Qatar-based Al Jazeera network, he said the only solution to the country's problems was to bring Gen Al Burhan to justice.

“No negotiations with Al Burhan because he started this fight and is to blame for killing the Sudanese people,” he said.

He said the RSF's priority was to hang on to Khartoum airport.

Sudan’s military has also ruled out negotiations with the RSF and says it will accept only its surrender.

“There would be no armed forces outside the military system,” it said in a statement.

In a move that's symbolically significant, Gen Al Burhan on Thursday issued a decree that ended the merger of the border guards with the RSF under a 2017 law. Under the new decree, the border guard will return to being part of the armed forces. Gen Al Burhan has already issued a decree dissolving the RSF.

Earlier, Gen Dagalo said his paramilitary force had “no objection” to stopping the fighting.

Why is there brutal fighting happening in Sudan?

Why is there brutal fighting happening in Sudan?

Two 24-hour ceasefires have been declared this week, but neither one has been heeded, with the army and RSF continuing to fight in Khartoum and elsewhere in Sudan.

In a joint statement on Thursday, the UN, African Union and regional International Fund for Agricultural Development asked the two warring sides again to observe a 24-hour cessation of hostilities beginning at 6pm.

Fighting was reported near Khartoum's international airport throughout Thursday morning and was also hit by artillery on Wednesday. The airport is controlled by the RSF.

RSF forces have increased deployments around the Nile-side presidential palace, Sudan's seat of power, according to journalists in Khartoum, while large plumes of smoke could be seen near the army's general command, which has been the scene of fierce clashes and remains contested.

The palace was captured by the RSF last Saturday, the day the fighting began.

The army said it has destroyed RSF reinforcements making their way to the capital.

Three people were killed by stray bullets during violent clashes at a market in northern Sudan, local journalists reported, while three civilians were killed west of Omdurman.

Civilians across Khartoum sheltered indoors, terrified stray bullets would hit them even in their own homes. Thousands have fled the city in recent days, seeking safety in their hometowns and villages.

Residents in the south of Khartoum were awoken early on Thursday by fighter jets and shelling.

“We wish the fighting would stop during Eid festivities,” a local resident told AFP, referring to the holiday that marks the end of Ramadan.

“We know it will not happen, though.”

Around the capital and elsewhere, RSF fighters on top of armoured vehicles and pickup trucks laden with weapons have taken over the streets, the agency reported.

Many have put up checkpoints to search cars carrying civilians trying to escape Khartoum's worst battle zones to safer areas in the capital and beyond.

Khartoum, a city of nearly seven million people on the White and Blue Niles, has seen violence in the years since independence in 1956, mostly due to the nation's track record of military coups, but it has never experienced violence on the scale of the past six days.

With both sides appearing determined to fight until the end, the conflict could turn into a proxy war between regional and world powers, since both Gen Al Burhan and Gen Dagalo have foreign backers.

Updated: April 20, 2023, 4:08 PM