Sudan fighting leaves Khartoum without power and water, deepening civilian misery

Fierce street battles between the army and the RSF force many to flee, with power and water supplies cut off

Sudanese troops have been deployed in residential areas of Omdurman district, in Khartoum. AFP
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Fierce street battles in Omdurman, a district in Sudan's capital Khartoum, have cut off power and water supplies to thousands of homes and disrupted internet and telephone services.

This has deepened the suffering of residents trapped by months of fighting between the army and a rival paramilitary group.

Witnesses told The National that the fighting, which began on Tuesday and continued on Wednesday, was primarily in Omdurman’s old neighbourhoods.

Beside the street battles, the army’s artillery units and fighter jets have pounded the positions of the Rapid Support Forces in the area since Monday.

The shelling is part of an attempt to try to take a bridge across the Nile used by the paramilitary force to bring reinforcements and weapons from Omdurman to the other two cities, Bahri and Khartoum, which make up the wider capital.

Dead bodies littered the streets of Omdurman on Wednesday as hundreds of residents fled their homes to escape the fighting, said the witnesses.

Apart from civilian casualties, scores of combatants were killed and wounded in what the witnesses described as the most intense fighting in the capital since the war began on April 15.

A Sudanese army soldier fires a machine gun at rival paramilitary Rapid Support Forces in Omdurman district. AFP

RSF fighters looted homes left behind by fleeing residents, the witnesses.

They also forced residents out of their homes in Wadnabawy district, an upscale, Nile-side Omdurman area and a stronghold of Al Mahdi family, descendants of 19th-century leader Imam Al Mahdi.

“There are so many dead bodies lying on the streets,” said Mohammed El Fateh, a law student who lives in Omdurman.

“The situation is very difficult and the RSF remains entrenched in our districts despite the army’s offensive.

“This is the worst situation since the start of the war. We have no electricity or water and the internet is weak.”

The army said on Tuesday that its troops were engaged in “mopping-up operations” in Omdurman, where thousands of RSF fighters have been entrenched since the early days of the war in April.

The RSF's deployment in residential areas and elsewhere in the capital effectively turned residents into human shields.

This reduced the effectiveness of its shelling and air strikes, and led to a significant number of civilian casualties and damage to properties.

The army claimed hundreds of RSF fighters were killed and many more wounded during the ground operations on Tuesday, while four of its soldiers died.

However, the figures could not be independently verified.

Men walk through a flooded area in Al Sagai area, north of Omdurman, in the Sudanese capital. AFP

“Many people escaped the fighting and found refuge in the district of Al Thawrat,” said another Omdurman resident, retail merchant Islam Abdullah.

“People in Al Thawrat welcomed them into their homes.”

Al Thawrat is one of Omdurman's outlying districts, about 25km north-west of Khartoum's centre.

Mr Abdullah said several artillery shells fired by the army struck homes in the old section of Omdurman, killing and wounding scores.

“I know of 20 people killed in my neighbourhood alone,” he said.

The fighting, according to Mr Abdulla and the army, was under way in at least 10 old Omdurman districts, including the historical neighbourhoods of Beit El Mal, El Abbassiyah, El Fetayhab and Wadnabawy.

Underlining the gravity of the situation, Omdurman's emergency services sent text messages to residents advising them of the routes they should take to safety.

They also confirmed that RSF fighters were looting homes in Wadnabawy after forcing the occupants out.

Sudan's army chief Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan, right, and Gen Mohamed Dagalo, commander of the Rapid support forces. AFP

The latest fighting in Omdurman highlights the intractability of the war in Sudan, which is essentially a fight for political and military domination of the country between army chief Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan and his one-time deputy and ally Gen Mohamed Dagalo, the RSF commander.

With their war seemingly unwinnable and repeated mediations to find a peaceful end to the conflict making no headway, the fighting appears destined to continue, deepening the humanitarian crisis in an already impoverished nation of more than 40 million.

The UN says more than half the population now needs assistance and that more than four million people have been forced to flee their homes to escape the fighting, finding refuge in peaceful areas of the vast country or crossing the border into neighbouring nations – primarily Egypt, Chad, South Sudan and the Central African Republic.

The war has been centred in the capital and the restive region of Darfur, the birthplace of the RSF’s forerunner, the notorious Janjaweed militia.

Darfur is where the RSF and allied militias launched genocidal attacks in June against members of an ethnic African tribe, the Masalit.

The attacks killed hundreds and forced thousands to flee their homes in the town of Al Geneina.

Earlier this week, the UN said there has been more recent and similar attacks elsewhere in Darfur.

It said it was “gravely concerned” and “strongly” condemned the indiscriminate targeting, in late July, of civilians in the Darfur town of Sirba, north of Al Geneina, and in Nyala in south Darfur.

Volker Perthes, the UN's special representative in Sudan. EPA

“We are documenting all the violations and I recall that these heinous acts are serious violations of the human rights of civilians and may constitute war crimes,” said Volker Perthes, the UN’s special representative in Sudan.

Gen Al Burhan has set up a commission to investigate what an army statement last weekend described as possible war crimes committed by the RSF since the fighting began on April 15.

The RSF has consistently denied allegations of abuse or human rights offences by its fighters and said it intends to investigate them and bring the perpetrators to justice in field martial courts.

It has also accused the army of killing civilians en masse with its artillery shelling and air strikes.

The Janjaweed has been accused of war crimes against civilians dating back to when it fought on the government’s side against ethnic African rebels during a civil war that tore Darfur apart in the 2000s.

Dictator Omar Al Bashir, toppled in 2019, and several top aides were indicted on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur more than a decade ago by the International Criminal Court.

Updated: August 09, 2023, 8:01 PM