(Khartoum) Explosions and gunfire shook Khartoum on Thursday, the sixth day of deadly fighting between the Sudanese army and paramilitaries led by two rival generals, without respite despite calls for a truce for the end of Ramadan on Friday.
Reacting for the first time since the start of hostilities, army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhane said there would be no “political discussions” with his rival Mohamed Hamdane Daglo, known as “Hemedti at the head of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF): either he ceases to “want to control the country”, or he will be “crushed militarily”.
After a virtual meeting with the African Union, the Arab League and other regional organizations, UN chief Antonio Guterres called for a ceasefire of “at least three days” for Eid el -Fitr, the feast that marks the end of the Muslim fast of Ramadan on Friday.
Since April 15, clashes, mainly in the capital and the Darfur region (west), have left “more than 330 dead and 3,200 injured”, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Explosions also sounded Thursday in El-Obeid, 350 kilometers south of the capital.
But Tagrid Abdin, a 49-year-old architect in Khartoum, is “not optimistic”. “We’ve announced a ceasefire three or four times now, but neither side has honored it,” she said.
“We would like the fighting to stop for Eid, but we know that will not happen,” laments Abdallah, another resident of the capital.
In “certain districts of the center, the smell of death and corpses reigns”, testifies a man on his way to a quieter district.
In the metropolis of more than five million inhabitants, many families have exhausted their last food and no longer have electricity or running water. Some crowd the roads to escape air raids and street fighting.
“At 4:30 a.m., we were woken up by the air raids. We have closed all the doors and windows because we are afraid of a stray bullet,” another resident of Khartoum, Nazek Abdallah, 38, told AFP.
A few tens of kilometers away, life goes on and houses open to welcome the displaced. Traumatized, they drove or walked for hours.
To take shelter, they had to undergo the questions or the searches of the men at the checkpoints of the FSR of General Daglo and the army of General Burhane, de facto leader of Sudan since the putsch they carried out together in 2021.
Above all, they had to progress in the middle of the corpses which litter the edges of the road and avoid the most dangerous zones, identifiable by the columns of black smoke which escape from them.
Since the power struggle, latent for weeks between the two generals, turned into a pitched battle, civilians have also fled in large numbers abroad.
From both sides, announcements of victory and mutual accusations rain down, impossible to verify on the ground as the danger is permanent.
The air force, which targets the bases and positions of the FSR scattered in residential areas, does not hesitate to drop bombs, sometimes above hospitals, doctors testified.
In five days, “70% of the 74 hospitals in Khartoum and the areas affected by the fighting have been put out of use”, according to their union: bombed, they no longer have any stock to operate or fighters have taken it control, chasing doctors and wounded.
In the capital, “children are hiding in schools and daycare centers amid fighting and children’s hospitals have been forced to evacuate in the face of airstrikes,” UNICEF adds.
Humanitarians have mostly been forced to suspend their aid, crucial in a country where more than one in three inhabitants suffer from hunger in normal times.
Three employees of the World Food Program (WFP) were notably killed in Darfur at the start of the fighting.
Amid the general chaos, Egypt managed, through mediation by the United Arab Emirates, to evacuate “177 of its soldiers” stationed at a northern air base, according to the two countries.
And 27 others, captured by the paramilitaries and then handed over to the Red Cross, are at the embassy in Khartoum, according to the Egyptian army.
On Thursday, the United States announced that it would send troops to the Sudan region to facilitate a possible evacuation of its embassy.
More than 300 civilians have been killed since Saturday in the war between the two generals in command of Sudan since their coup in October 2021.
For weeks now, the 45 million Sudanese have been watching tensions rise between the head of the army, Abdel Fattah al-Burhane, and his number two in the putschist power, Mohamed Hamdane Daglo, known as “Hemedti”, head of the Forces rapid support (FSR).
In October 2021, the two generals joined forces to oust the civilians with whom they had shared power since the fall of dictator Omar al-Bashir in 2019.
“A marriage of convenience,” researcher Hamid Khalafallah told AFP. “They never had a sincere partnership, but common interests against civilians.”
And the breaches quickly appeared: Hemedti repeatedly denounced the “failure” of a putsch which, according to him, reinstalled Bashir’s “old regime”.
Then the conflict escalated when it was necessary to sign the conditions for the integration of his men into the regular troops – to finalize the political agreement on the return of civilians to power.
For experts, this agreement has opened Pandora’s box: by letting the military negotiate among themselves, “Hemedti has gone from being second to Burhane’s equal to that of equal”, Kholood Khair, founder of the center told AFP. Confluence Advisory research.
“More autonomous in the face of the army”, Hemedti saw an opportunity to realize “his very great political ambitions”, abounds with AFP Alan Boswell, in charge of the Horn of Africa at the International Crisis Group.
Created in 2013, the FSR bring together thousands of former Janjaweed, these Arab militiamen recruited by Bashir for his war in Darfur (west).
This conflict, which broke out in 2003 between Khartoum and members of non-Arab ethnic minorities, left 300,000 dead and 2.5 million displaced, according to the UN. And earned the dictator two arrest warrants from the International Criminal Court (ICC) for “war crimes”, “crimes against humanity” and “genocide”.
In 2015, the RSF joined the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen and, according to experts, some of its men are also fighting in Libya, strengthening their boss’s international networks.
In 2019, the RSFs were accused of killing around 100 pro-democracy protesters in Khartoum. But despite everything, “they continued to strengthen their power”, assures Mr. Boswell.
They now number a hundred thousand men, according to several experts.
The current fighting is “an existential struggle for both sides,” Boswell continues.
And to last a long time, at least one camp has created supply channels: that of Hemedti, say the specialists.
Its Darfur stronghold borders Chad where it has “contacts to secure” its supply from “the Sahel flooded with weapons and ammunition since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya”, Eric Reeves, a researcher at the Rift Valley Institute.
It is also in Libya that the paramilitaries could find their best ally: shortly before the war, Hemedti welcomed as a friend the son of the strongman of eastern Libya, Marshal Khalifa Haftar. The latter denied Thursday in a press release any support for one or the other of the belligerents.
Whatever the regional implications, Ms. Khair warns, “neither side will emerge unscathed.”
“It is highly unlikely that the two generals will return to the negotiating table before one or both suffer heavy casualties,” said the specialist.
Human and financial losses, but also in popularity, because the Sudanese will not forget the street wars and the civilians mowed down by stray bullets.
“Both sides are strong enough that a war between them will be very expensive, very deadly and very long,” Boswell said. And above all, even if one of the two parties wins in particular in Khartoum, “the war will continue elsewhere in the country”, creating rival strongholds.
“We are already in the worst-case scenario and we will go towards even more dramatic events”, with possible repercussions throughout the region, warns Mr. Boswell.