Khartoum stalked by death and fear after three weeks of fighting

Clashes reported on Saturday despite planned talks in Saudi Arabia between rival sides

People walk along a mostly deserted street in southern Khartoum, as smoke from fighting rises in the distance. AFP
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“If you decide to stay put and wait the fighting out, then you will just be waiting for your own death,” a Khartoum resident said on Saturday, describing life in Sudan's capital more than three weeks into the war between the army and a rival paramilitary force.

The resident, who did not want to be identified, said the city of nearly seven million people now resembled a ghost town.

Streets are deserted, except for checkpoints manned mostly by the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, and a cloud of black smoke hung over parts of the city on Saturday, he said.

Fighters of the RSF, the 40-year-old resident said, are taking refuge in residential areas ― effectively using those still at their homes as human shields.

“The army’s warplanes are striking RSF positions anywhere, regardless of their location or their proximity to homes,” he added.

“Things have become so dangerous the last two or three days. It is incredible. There’s no water or power."

Shops are shuttered and looting is widespread, he told The National.

“There is nothing here except death.”

The fighting continued on Saturday despite planned talks in Saudi Arabia between representatives of the rival sides.

The army’s jet fighters continued to strike RSF positions in Khartoum, while the thud of heavy artillery also rocked several parts of the city, residents said.

The declared goal of the talks in the Red Sea city of Jeddah is to end the conflict, which has killed hundreds and wounded thousands more. But both the army and the RSF say they want the dialogue to focus on humanitarian issues, not ending the conflict, suggesting that they intend to keep fighting.

The fighting has caused a breakdown in hospital services and disrupted supplies of medicine, food, water and electricity in the capital. On Saturday, internet and mobile phone connections were much weaker than usual, with residents saying they were having difficulty making calls or opening voice messages.

"We have hardly slept the last three days. We are still alive because of our prayers," said Omar Youssef, a teacher from Al Jereif Sharq district.

"We cannot leave the house to borrow food from our next door neighbours because of the shelling and air strikes. My mother is diabetic. She has run out of her medication, so we are calling around to see if we can give her natural medicines.

"Our mobile phones are about to die because there is no power to charge them. We can all die at any moment," Mr Youssef told The National.

The Sudanese Doctors Union said a total of 17 hospitals had been damaged by fighting and 20 forcibly evacuated since the start of the violence. Sixty of the 88 hospitals in Khartoum are out of service, it said, with many of the rest only offering partial service.

"Sudan's warring armies are showing reckless disregard for civilian lives by using inaccurate weapons in populated urban areas," Human Rights Watch Sudan researcher Mohamed Osman said in a report.

The conflict erupted on April 15, pitting the army led by Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan against the RSF led by Gen Mohamed Dagalo ― a former militia leader better known by his nickname, Hemedti.

The fighting followed the collapse of an internationally backed plan to restore Sudan’s democratic transition, which was derailed by an October 2021 military takeover led by the two generals.

The transition was launched in 2019 after the army and RSF toppled the dictator Omar Al Bashir, ending his 29-year rule amid a popular uprising against him.

A series of ceasefires negotiated by foreign powers have failed to halt the fighting or allow humanitarian relief to reach residents of Khartoum.

The fighting has forced at least 100,000 Sudanese to flee the country and many more to seek refuge in provinces outside Khartoum.

“I am at Kosti now in the White Nile province south of Khartoum,” veteran rights campaigner Sulaima Ishaq said in a message to The National on Saturday.

“We had wanted to flee for days but could not make up our mind,” said the mother of four. “But we decided enough was enough when an artillery shell hit the house next door,” said Ms Ishaq, who lives in Omdurman, one of Khartoum’s two adjoining cities.

Those who fled Khartoum in search of safety elsewhere in Sudan or abroad have left their homes vulnerable to being burgled by armed bands of robbers roaming the city.

Residents, however, have reported break-ins and looting by RSF fighters, too.

“There are not many army troops on the streets, but RSF checkpoints are everywhere. They harass people on their way out of the city or trying to buy food. They are suspicious of everyone and ask many questions,” one resident said.

“Their bases have been destroyed, so they have nowhere to be except the streets,” Almogera Abdel Bagea, a Khartoum resident, said of RSF fighters.

“Their supply lines have been cut off by the army. So, they break into stores to get water and food, but some ordinary people are doing the same to feed their families.”

Updated: May 06, 2023, 11:05 AM