Sudan's Eid ceasefire shattered as fighting rages on in Khartoum

Army chief Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan says military remains committed to transition to civil rule

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The first day of Eid in Sudan on Friday was marked by heavy fighting, gunfire and the sound of explosions across Khartoum.

Paramilitaries and the army fought for a sixth day despite calls for a truce over the holiday to mark the end of Ramadan.

Where the situation was calmer, hundreds gathered for early prayers even though the crackle of gunfire echoed through the city.

Since fighting began on Saturday between the Rapid Support Forces led by Gen Mohamed Dagalo, known as Hemedti, and his former boss, Sudanese army chief Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan, more than 300 have been killed and thousands wounded.

The Central Committee of Sudan Doctors said that overnight, as Eid Al Fitr celebrations marking the end of Ramadan began, “several areas of Khartoum were bombed”. It reported “shelling and clashes” for the sixth night in a row.

Khartoum has seen some of the fiercest fighting, with air strikes and tanks firing in densely packed districts. Most of its five million people have been sheltering at home in baking heat without electricity, food or water. Communications are heavily disrupted.

Both UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called separately for a ceasefire of “at least” three days to mark Eid. An emergency meeting of representatives from the African Union, Arab League, UN Security Council and other regional bodies called for the same thing.

However, only the RSF, a powerful force formed from members of the Janjaweed militia that led years of extreme violence in the western Darfur region, said it would commit to a 72-hour ceasefire starting at dawn.

The failure to halt the fighting on Friday follows two previously agreed and ignored ceasefires earlier in the week as the conflict has raged unabated.

For the first time since the fighting began, Gen Al Burhan appeared on television. While he did not address the proposed truce, he marked the start of Eid.

“For Eid this year, our country is bleeding: destruction, desolation and the sound of bullets have taken precedence over joy,” he said in a pre-recorded video, which showed him sitting behind a desk in military uniform. It was unclear when the footage was shot.

“We hope that we will come out of this ordeal more united … a single army, a single people … towards a civilian power,” he said.

Gen Al Burhan said the military remained committed to a transition to civilian rule, an issue over which the army and RSF have been trading accusations for months as the situation became increasingly acrimonious.

The International Crisis Group said urgent steps were needed to stop a descent into “full-blown civil war”, warning “the nightmare scenario that many feared in Sudan is unfolding”.

The World Food Programme warned the violence could plunge millions more into hunger in a country where 15 million people ― one-third of the population ― need aid.

It has suspended its Sudan operations after the killing of three WFP workers on Saturday.

Gen Al Burhan and Gen Dagalo's bitter dispute centred on the planned integration of the RSF into the regular army, a key condition for a final deal aimed at restoring Sudan's democratic transition.

Civilians are becoming increasingly desperate, with thousands risking the dangerous streets to flee Khartoum, and many reporting streets strewn with corpses.

International efforts are being planned for the possible evacuation of citizens, with the US potentially deploying forces to airlift US embassy staff.

Medics have warned of a catastrophe, with two-thirds of hospitals in Khartoum and neighbouring states rendered “out of service” by the fighting, the doctors' union said.

Four hospitals in Obeid in North Kordofan state had also been “shelled”.

The World Health Organisation said it had reports of almost 330 people killed and 3,200 wounded across Sudan, but medics fear the death toll is likely to be far higher, with many wounded unable to reach hospitals.

Why is there brutal fighting happening in Sudan?

Why is there brutal fighting happening in Sudan?

Gen Al Burhan and Gen Dagalo toppled autocratic president Omar Al Bashir together in April 2019 following massive protests against his three decades of iron-fisted rule.

In October 2021, they again worked together in a coup to oust the civilian government installed after Al Bashir's downfall, derailing an internationally backed transition to democracy.

“With neither Al Burhan nor Hemedti (Gen Dagalo) appearing ready to back down, the situation could get much worse,” the International Crisis Group think tank said. It added that while some analysts thought the army would succeed in on its “home turf” in Khartoum, the risk of an all-out conflict remained.

“Even if the army eventually does secure the capital, and Hemedti retreats to Darfur, a civil war could well follow, with potentially destabilising impact in neighbouring Chad, the Central African Republic, Libya and South Sudan”, Crisis Group added.

Updated: April 21, 2023, 8:30 AM