High-rise building on fire in Khartoum as conflict intensifies

Paramilitary group fighting Sudan's army steps up attacks in capital city

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An 18-storey building in the centre of Khartoum was engulfed in flames on Sunday as fighting intensified between the army and a rival paramilitary group in the Sudanese capital.

Images posted online showed the Greater Nile Petroleum Oil Company Tower, a conical building with glass facades that had become an emblem of the city, on fire as fighting centred on the armed forces' headquarters in the heart of Khartoum, with fighters from the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) trying to seize the part of the sprawling complex that remains under army control.

The tower is located in the Nile-side Al Mugran district, a short distance away from the city's downtown area.

Four other key buildings in central Khartoum — the Justice Ministry, State Authority for Measurements, Tax Authority and Ministry of Higher Education — were also gutted by fire in the fighting, which was continuing on Sunday afternoon.

The four buildings are about a kilometre away from the armed forces headquarters.

The fighting was taking place near to where army chief Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan was stranded for about four months before he was able to slip out last month and leave the capital. He has since been based in the Red Sea city of Port Sudan, visiting Egypt, Qatar, Eritrea, South Sudan and Uganda in the past month.

Video clips posted online on Sunday showed deserted and debris-strewn streets and badly damaged vehicles in central Khartoum with the sound of heavy machinegun fire ringing out in the background. Other clips purported to show fighting inside the armed forces headquarters.

Gen Al Burhan's one-time deputy and ally, RSF commander Gen Mohamed Dagalo, last week threatened to march on Port Sudan. He claimed his fighters were in near total control of the entire Nile-side capital and challenged the army chief's legitimacy as the country's leader.

He has also threatened to set up a governing administration in Khartoum if Gen Al Burhan declares one in Port Sudan. The threat drew warnings from politicians that the country could be heading to effective partition.

It was not immediately clear how the buildings caught fire but the fighting over the nearby armed forces' headquarters involved artillery shelling and air strikes. There has been no word from the army or the RSF on the fires.

The fighting in Sudan boils down to a struggle for political and military supremacy between Gen Al Burhan and Gen Dagalo, who in 2021 staged a joint military coup that toppled the civilian-led government, derailing Sudan's democratic transition and plunging the vast Afro-Arab nation into a political and security crisis.

The conflict has created a massive humanitarian crisis, forcing more than five million of Sudan's 48 million people to flee their homes. More than one million of those sought refuge in neighbouring nations.

There are no reliable estimates for the number of people killed so far but it is widely thought to be in the thousands.

Updated: September 18, 2023, 5:27 AM