Sudan's 'non-ending' war pushing many to despair

Hope for an end to eight months of hostilities fast disappearing among fearful population

A family who fled the war in Sudan's Darfur region wait to be registered by the UN after crossing into Chad. Reuters
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With millions displaced, a broken economy and devastated infrastructure, people in Sudan are fast losing hope the war between the Sudanese Army and the rival paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) will end any time soon, campaigners say.

This week, three months of indirect peace negotiations sponsored by Saudi Arabia and the US faltered without results.

Highlighting the horrors of a war raging unabated for eight months, the US on Wednesday found both the army and the RSF have committed war crimes, with the latter, along with allied militias, also accused of crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.

The UN Security Council has voted to end a political mission in Sudan after the country's acting foreign minister requested the move earlier this month. The resolution terminated the mandate of the UN mission, known as Unitams, as of December 3.

In the text, the council expressed “alarm at the continued violence and humanitarian situation", specifically breaches of international humanitarian law and "grave human rights violations".

A lack of hope of finding a way to end the war is reflected by ordinary Sudanese enduring the conflict, said Sulaima Ishaq, a prominent women’s rights campaigner and an icon of the 2018-19 uprising that forced army generals to topple the 29-year regime of dictator Omar Al Bashir in April 2019.

“People have resigned themselves to the war and are leading a day-to-day existence without much hope in the future,” said Ms Ishaq, a native of Khartoum who has taken refuge in Kosti in eastern Sudan.

“People are trying to bring back a semblance of normality to their lives after they lost hope the war will end soon. Markets have reopened, some police stations are back to work and many have started small businesses.”

Internal strife is nothing new to Sudan but this war stands apart in terms of the scope of destruction, the large number of people displaced – 6.5 million – and the motives behind it.

Sudan, a vast and impoverished Afro-Arab nation, has been torn by civil wars for most of its nearly 70 years since independence. Wars in the south and west of the country killed millions and deepened ethnic and religious fault lines.

This war is essentially a struggle for military and political supremacy between army chief Gen Abdel Fattah Al Burhan and his one-time ally and deputy Gen Mohamed Dagalo, commander of the RSF.

It is the first of Sudan’s post-independence wars that is chiefly being fought on the streets of Khartoum, forcing millions of residents to flee the capital.

The RSF has been blamed for widespread looting, arbitrary arrests, torture and sexual violence. The army, seeking to dislodge RSF fighters deployed deep in residential areas, have been accused of recklessly using heavy artillery and air strikes, killing hundreds, maybe thousands, of civilians.

In recent weeks, the two sides have accused each other of bombing key sites such as oil refineries and bridges, a dramatic development in a country whose infrastructure barely meets the needs of its rapidly growing population.

The war has killed 10,000 people to date, the UN said, though the figure is widely thought to be much higher.

“We are now facing a non-ending war,” said Osman Al Mirghany, a prominent Sudanese analyst.

“Military operations by both sides are repeated using identical tactics and taking place at the same sites without any progress made by either side.

“The only result is that civilians are dying in the crossfire.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on the two sides to “stop this conflict now, comply with their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law, and hold accountable those responsible for atrocities”.

Describing ethnically motivated attacks by the RSF and its allies against members of the African Masalit tribe in Darfur, he said: “Masalit civilians have been hunted down and left for dead in the streets, their homes set on fire, and told there is no place in Sudan for them.”

Mr Blinken said detainees had been abused or killed.

The rhetoric used by both Gen Al Burhan and Gen Dagalo has not suggested a likely end to the war.

On Saturday, Gen Al Burhan told his troops the war “would not end until every inch of this country soiled by the rebellion is free”.

Gen Dagalo and his lieutenants have been tirelessly accusing the army and its leadership of forging an alliance with Al Bashir loyalists, pitted against the RSF. They have also vowed to rid the country of what they say are the army’s power-hungry generals.

Both generals claim to be at war for the benefit of Sudan and to restore the democratic transition they both upended when they jointly staged a military coup in October 2021.

But citizens said it does not feel that way for those trapped amid the incessant fighting.

“What is worse than the shortage of food, electricity and water is the loss of loved ones,” said Sawsan Yassin, a Khartoum native who now lives in Wad Medani, south of the capital.

"We are no longer able to know who to mourn or how to mourn them.

“We’ve lost so many and I fear that losing loved ones has happened so often that we have grown accustomed to it,” she added. “No one can tell who we will mourn tomorrow or whether it is us that will be mourned.”

Updated: December 07, 2023, 1:12 PM