Latest wave of looting strips Khartoum homes of doors, windows and floors

'People have lost everything that binds them to their homes,' says rights campaigner

People displaced by the fighting wait to receive food distributed by volunteers in Omdurman, Sudan. Reuters
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Nearly six months after Sudan's civil war broke out, residents in the capital say their homes are still being looted and that thieves are now stripping away windows, doors and floors following earlier waves of stealing cash, jewellery, cars and electrical appliances.

They blamed the latest wave of looting on criminal gangs whose members come mostly from Sudan’s western regions and who typically live on the outskirts of the sprawling capital in shanty towns that have been built to accommodate the hundreds of thousands displaced by civil war in the country over the years.

“The looting happened in stages,” explained Shaker Fadl, who lives in the Khartoum district of Al Safiyah.

“The looters first targeted cash and gold jewellery, then they came for the cars, electrical appliances and furniture. Now is the final stage and they are going for doors, windows and floors,” he told The National.

Residents accuse fighters from the Rapid Support Forces of providing cover for the looters, who operate in areas of the capital under RSF control. The paramilitary's forerunner is a notorious, Darfur-based militia called the Janjaweed. Residents say RSF fighters look on as looters load whatever they steal on to lorries and drive away.

The RSF, led by Gen Mohamed Dagalo, has since mid-April been locked in a ruinous and increasingly savage war against the army, led by Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan. The former allies are vying for political and military supremacy in the vast Afro-Arab nation of 48 million people.

The extent of the looting, say the residents, has left victims with a deep sense of loss.

“I can no longer bear to hear stories about looting homes – too much heartbreak,” said Sulaima Ishaq, a prominent women's rights campaigner who fled the capital with her family and now lives in Kosti, in Sudan's east.

“People have lost everything that binds them to their homes. It is not just about material stuff, it's the memories,” she told The National.

Many of those who fled the capital and heard of their homes being looted are unsure whether there is still enough to go back to after the war ends. They also question whether their previous lives, tough as it was for many in the impoverished and chronically imperiled nation, can be pieced back together or if trust between citizens could be built again.

“Sudan is finished!” ... “what is there to go back to?” many displaced Sudanese say now.

Some residents' accounts of looting were conveyed to The National. Others have appeared on social media platforms, which millions of Sudanese are now using to vent their frustration over the war, share information and reach out to worried friends and family.

Videos widely shared online of execution-style killings of prisoners and wounded fighters from both sides, is rapidly crushing dreams of the ethnically and religiously diverse nation coming together after decades of civil wars.

The grim outlook is borne out by the apparent resolve of the army and the RSF to fight until the end.

As well as looting, millions of residents trapped in the capital have had to suffer lengthy water and electricity power cuts, as well as scarce health services and soaring food and fuel prices. Hundreds have been killed in crossfire or by stray artillery shells, rockets and air strikes.

Of the five million displaced by the fighting, one fifth lived in the Sudanese capital, the greater area of which is made up of three cities – Khartoum, Bahri and Omdurman – built around the confluence of the Blue and White Nile.

RSF fighters are chiefly blamed for the looting, as well as sexual assaults and abuse of civilians. In Darfur, they have launched genocidal attacks on ethnic communities that left thousands dead and forced many more to flee to neighbouring Chad.

In an address to the UN's General Assembly last week, Gen Al Burhan asked the international community to designate the RSF a terrorist group, saying its fighters have committed war crimes.

Some residents claim Sudanese soldiers manning checkpoints in Khartoum frequently strip civilians of cash and mobile phones. Others say troops are also looting homes.

Mosab Al Jak, a Sudanese blogger well known for his detailed and accurate accounts of what is happening in Bahri, warned his neighbours not to return to their homes.

“I will be a liar if I told you that there's a single home in Bahri that has not been looted,” he said in a recent video posted online, while carrying a white burial cloth to signal that death lurks round the corner.

“The Janjaweed are raping Bahri and there is nothing left in your homes for you to come back to protect,” he said, lamenting what he described as “random” artillery and rocket shelling that is killing residents.

“The army is not much better. They loot and take people's cash and mobile phones in areas under their control.”

Updated: September 27, 2023, 3:22 AM