PORT SUDAN: Heavy gunfire echoed around Khartoum again on Friday as civilians trapped in the Sudanese capital said the army and rival paramilitary forces were fighting on and ignoring their plight.
“It’s been four days without electricity and our situation is difficult... We are the victims of a war that we aren’t a part of. No one cares about the citizen,” said 48-year-old Othman Hassan from the southern outskirts of the city.
Smoke rose into the air in an area outside Khartoum’s presidential palace, and across the River Nile in the adjoining city of Bahri, live footage on Al Jazeera showed.
Despite multiple ceasefire declarations, the army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) appeared to be battling each other for control of territory ahead of proposed talks.
So far, army leader Abdul Fattah Al Burhan, a career military officer, and RSF commander Mohammad Hamdan Dagalo, commonly known as Hemedti, a former militia leader from the strife-torn western region of Darfur, have shown little public willingness to negotiate after more than two weeks of fighting.
The sudden collapse into warfare has killed hundreds, triggered a humanitarian disaster, sent an exodus of refugees to neighbouring states and risks dragging in outside powers, further destabilising an already restive region.
Across swathes of Khartoum, factories, banks and shops have been looted or damaged, power and water supplies have been failing and residents have reported steep price rises and shortages of basic goods.
Whole neighbourhoods have emptied out, leading people to fear for the houses they left behind. Aya Eltahir said she fled with her family to the northern outskirts of the capital after bullets hit their roof.
“I make plans to return every day, even just to grab more essential items, but the situation is too unsafe,” she said.
The Sudanese Doctors Union said one of the country’s main maternity hospitals, Aldayat in the adjoining city of Omdurman, and the central medical supply warehouse had been looted and occupied by forces on Thursday.
In total, it said 17 hospitals had been damaged by fighting and 20 forcibly evacuated since the start of the violence. Sixty of the 88 hospitals in Khartoum are out of service, it said, with many of the rest only offering partial service.
“Sudan’s warring armies are showing reckless disregard for civilian lives by using inaccurate weapons in populated urban areas,” Human Rights Watch Sudan researcher Mohamed Osman said in a report.
AID, FOOD PILLAGED
The fighting stems from tensions between two rival factions, the army and RSF, which had shared power after a coup in 2021.
They have accused each other of breaching a string of truces.
Neither side made a statement on the fighting on Friday.
The conflict has derailed an internationally-backed plan to usher in democracy and civilian rule after a 2019 popular uprising that unseated Islamist strongman Omar al-Bashir.
The United Nations pressed the warring sides to guarantee safe passage of aid after six trucks were looted.
UN aid chief Martin Griffiths said he hoped to have face-to-face meetings with both sides to secure guarantees from them for aid convoys.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) estimated that $13 million to $14 million worth of food destined to people in need in Sudan had been plundered so far.
Fighting has also spread across the country including Darfur. “A number of cold chain facilities have been looted, damaged and destroyed, including over a million polio vaccines in South Darfur,” Hazel De Wet from the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF told Reuters in an email.
About 100,000 people have fled Sudan with little food or water to neighbouring countries, the United Nations says.
The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) called on governments to let fleeing civilians into their territory.
“We’re advising governments not to return people to Sudan because of the conflict that’s going on there and also advising that this is a refugee movement,” Elizabeth Tan, UNHCR’s Director of International Protection, told reporters at a briefing in Geneva.
The UNHCR said more than 56,000 people had entered Egypt through the Qostol and Agreen crossings since May 4, including at least 52,500 Sudanese, according to figures from Egypt’s foreign ministry.
The agency had said on Thursday it planning for an outflow of 860,000 refugees and returnees from Sudan and, with partners, will need $445 million to support the displaced until October.
The humanitarian situation in and around Sudan is tragic - there are food, water and fuel shortages, limited access to transport, communications and electricity, and sky-rocketing prices of basic items” Raouf Mazou, UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Operations, said.