(Khartoum) Explosions and gunfire continued Thursday to tear Khartoum apart, on the sixth day of fighting between the Sudanese army and paramilitaries, led by two rival generals, who know no respite as the festivities marking the end of Ramadan approach.
“ The smell of death and corpses reigns in certain districts of the center ”, testifies a resident of the capital on his way to a quieter district.
In the city of more than five million people, families rush to the roads to flee air raids and street fighting, which since April 15 have killed more than 270 civilians and are concentrated in Khartoum and Darfur, in western Sudan.
“At 4:30 a.m., we were woken up by the sounds of air raids. We have closed all the doors and windows because we are afraid that a stray bullet will pass,” another Khartoum resident, Nazek Abdallah, 38, told AFP.
A few dozen kilometers away, life goes on and houses open to welcome the displaced. Traumatized, they drove or walked for hours, because now a liter of gasoline is exchanged at 10 dollars in one of the poorest countries in the world.
To arrive at the shelter, they had to undergo the questions or the searches of the men stationed at the checkpoints of the Rapid Support Forces (FSR), the paramilitaries of General Mohamed Hamdane Daglo, known as Hemedti, and the army of General Abdel Fattah al-Burhane, de facto leader of Sudan since the putsch led by the two men in 2021.
Above all, they had to progress in the middle of the corpses which litter the edges of the road, the charred armored vehicles and vans, 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 on Saturday, the confusion has been total for the 45 million Sudanese.
The two belligerents keep promising truces that never come.
As in Khartoum, explosions sounded Thursday in the town of El-Obeid, 350 kilometers to the south.
Bosses from the UN, African Union, Arab League and other regional organizations must come together to call for a ceasefire once again, as Muslims across the world prepare to celebrate Eid el-Fitr, the end of Ramadan, Friday or Saturday.
In Khartoum, in the streets strewn with debris, it is impossible to know who holds the main institutions of the country.
From both sides are raining announcements of victories and mutual accusations, impossible to verify as the danger is permanent.
The air force, which targets the bases and positions of the FSR scattered in inhabited 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: they have been bombed, no longer have any stock to operate or fighters in took control, driving out medics and wounded.
Humanitarian organizations 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 World Food Program (WFP) staff were killed in Darfur at the start of the fighting. The UN no longer counts “ looting and attacks ” on its stocks and personnel, and denounces “ sexual violence against humanitarian workers ”.
Since Saturday, in Khartoum, many families have exhausted their last food and must now choose between two evils: to remain in a city where electricity and running water have disappeared, at the mercy of stray bullets. Or walk away in the crossfire and imagine their home looted.
Because the Sudanese have not forgotten the atrocities that earned dictator Omar el-Bashir, who was ousted in 2019, two arrest warrants from the International Criminal Court (ICC) for “ war crimes ”, “ crimes against humanity and “genocide” in Darfur.
During the Darfur war that broke out in 2003, he had delegated the scorched earth policy to General Daglo, and General Burhane was one of his regular army commanders.
The FSR, created in 2013, brings together thousands of former Janjaweed, Arab militiamen recruited by Omar al-Bashir to wage this war against ethnic minorities.
Amid the general chaos, Egypt managed to evacuate most of the “177 soldiers captured by the RSF while participating in training with the Sudanese army” at a military base in northern Sudan, according to the two countries. .
Only “27 of them” remain, according to the FSR, handed over by the paramilitaries and now at the embassy in Khartoum, according to the Egyptian army.
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 ”, explains researcher Hamid Khalafallah to 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 reinstalled, according to him, 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 the status of second to that of Burhane’s equal”, Kholood Khair, founder of the center of Confluence Advisory research.
“ More autonomous in the face of the army ”, Hemedti saw an opportunity to realize “ his very great political ambitions ”, agrees 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 the two belligerents ”, continues Mr. Boswell.
And to last a long time, at least one camp has created supply channels: that of Hemedti, say the specialists.
His stronghold in Darfur borders Chad where he has “contacts to secure” his supplies from “the Sahel flooded with weapons and ammunition, since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya”, told AFP Eric Reeves, 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, warns Ms. Khair, “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 losses ”, adds 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 costly, very deadly and very long,” Mr. Boswell said. And above all, even if one of the two parties wins, particularly 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.