Internet blackout adds to woes of Sudanese civilians

Food supplies, power, water and health services disrupted by more than a week of fighting

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Sudan experienced a near-total collapse of internet and phone services on Sunday as continued fighting between the army and a rival paramilitary group pushed the impoverished country deeper into a humanitarian crisis.

More than 420 people, including 264 civilians, have been killed and more than 3,700 have been wounded in the fighting between the Sudanese army and the powerful paramilitary group known as the Rapid Support Forces, according to the latest World Health Organisation tally on Saturday.

Battles in the capital Khartoum, where the fighting began on April 15 before spreading across the country, have left residents facing food and fuel shortages, erratic power and water supply, and a collapse in health services.

Thousands have fled the capital, while several countries, including the US and Britain, have mounted evacuation operations since Saturday to get their diplomats and citizens out of the capital.

On Sunday, the country experienced a “near-total collapse” of internet connection and phone lines nationwide, according to NetBlocks, an internet monitoring service.

“It’s possible that infrastructure has been damaged or sabotaged,” said NetBlocks director Alp Toker. “This will have a major effect on residents’ ability to stay safe and will impact the evacuation programmes that are continuing.”

A statement issued by the Joint Hospital Emergencies, a medical group, said many hospitals have been disabled by the fighting and had no fuel to operate.

It said Bahri, a sister city of Khartoum, has had no water for six days and that children and the elderly were being particularly affected by thirst.

The Bahri water plant was no longer working and the fighting is preventing engineers from reaching water plants to carry out necessary maintenance, it said.

Unicef said the fighting is taking a heavy toll on Sudanese children already suffering from malnutrition

"Sudan already has one of the highest rates of malnutrition among children in the world," Unicef spokesman James Elder said on Friday. "And now critical life-saving care for an estimated 50,000 severely malnourished children has been disrupted. This is life threatening."

He said at least nine children had been reported killed in the fighting and that more than 50 had been injured.

The fighting has continued despite both sides promising to observe a three-day ceasefire for the Muslim holiday of Eid Al Fitr that began on Friday.

Heavy clashes were reported in northern Khartoum and it remained unclear who controlled strategic locations throughout the capital city, according to an internal UN document published on Saturday.

“Due to the shortages of water, fuel, food, UN personnel and dependents are likely to try to self-relocate, with significant risks of crossfire, arrests, physical violence,” the document said.

Clashes continue in Sudan's capital, cutting residents' basic supplies

Clashes continue in Sudan's capital, cutting residents' basic supplies

The RSF and the army have traded accusations that the other side is impeding foreign evacuations and attacking embassy staff.

There are “no movement corridors in Khartoum officially open despite the RSF indicating openness to support evacuations,” according to the document. “Civilians are self-relocating despite the significant risks.”

Meanwhile, looting of humanitarian assets and forced entry into compounds reported since the conflict began are “expected to continue,” the UN said in the document.

In Sunday's fighting, a senior military official said army and police repelled an RSF attack on Kober Prison in Khartoum where Sudan’s longtime ruler, Omar Al Bashir, and former officials in his movement have been imprisoned since his ouster in 2019.

The official said a number of prisoners fled but Al Bashir and other high-profile inmates were still held in a “highly secure” area. The official said “a few prisoners” were killed or wounded.

The current violence came after Sudan's army chief Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan and RSF leader Gen Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo fell out over a recent internationally brokered deal with democracy activists that was meant to incorporate the RSF into the military and eventually lead to civilian rule.

Updated: April 24, 2023, 5:11 AM