Sudan's Rapid Support Forces paramilitary announced the capture of a third town in the Darfur region from the army as both sides held talks in Saudi Arabia to end months of bitter fighting that has devastated the country.
RSF fighters captured El Geneina after overrunning the army garrison, home to the 15th Infantry Division, seizing its weapons and hardware, the paramilitary said.
El Geneina was the scene of alleged ethnically motivated attacks by the RSF and its local Arab allies against members of the African Masalit tribe this summer. Hundreds were killed and tens of thousands forced to flee across the nearby border with Chad.
The International Criminal Court has said it is investigating allegations of a war crime but the RSF on Sunday sought to shift the blame to commanders of the local army garrison.
“The command of the 15th Infantry Division in El Geneina has played a malicious role, causing the death of our brethren in West Darfur by lighting the fire of sedition and stoking it with the distribution of weapons,” an RSF statement said late on Sunday.
“That has in turn led to the death, displacement and migration of the state's citizens to elsewhere inside and outside Sudan,” it added.
The RSF has also been accused by the ICC of war crimes during Darfur's civil war in the 2000s, when the paramilitary, whose forerunner was a notorious Darfur-based militia called the Janjaweed, fought on the government's side against ethnic African rebels.
News of the capture of El Geneina was followed within hours by the emergence online of a video clip purporting to show members of the 15th Infantry Division and their weapons after they fled into Chad.
The clip's authenticity could not be independently verified but the men were wearing Sudanese army uniforms and the number plates of their vehicles matched those of the Sudanese armed forces.
El Geneina is the third army-held Darfur town to fall to the RSF in two weeks, Zalingi earlier this month and Nyala in late October. The RSF is believed to be near to capturing a fourth town, El Fasher, as well as El Obeid in neighbouring Kordofan state.
The RSF gains coincide with renewed peace negotiations with the army, held in the Saudi city of Jeddah and mediated by the Saudis and the US. The talks aim to reach a truce to allow humanitarian aid to reach millions in Sudan who have been affected by the fighting that broke out in mid-April.
There has been no word on whether the negotiations have made any progress since they resumed in late October.
The war has killed about 10,000 people and forced nearly six million to flee their homes, creating a massive humanitarian crisis.
Meanwhile, at least 20 people were killed when shells hit a market in Omdurman, one of three cities making up the capital's greater area, according to a committee of pro-democracy lawyers that tracks of rights violations and civilian victims in the conflict.
The market was hit during an intense exchange of fire between the army and the RSF, the committee said in a statement received by AFP.
“More than 20 civilians have been killed and others wounded,” it said.
On Saturday, a medical source said shells also hit houses in Khartoum, killing 15 civilians.
The army has been using air strikes and artillery shelling to dislodge RSF fighters deployed deep in residential areas of Khartoum, Omdurman and Bahri – the three cities of the tripartite capital – where the paramilitary is in virtual control on the ground. The army is mostly confined to bases spread across the capital, as well as the eastern, northern and central regions of Sudan.