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Air raids, tank fire shake Sudan“s capital region despite truce pledge

2023-04-28T12:29:48Z

Strikes from the air, tanks and artillery shook Sudan’s capital of Khartoum on Friday and the adjacent city of Bahri came under heavy bombardment, witnesses said, even though the army and a rival paramilitary force agreed to extend a truce by 72 hours.

Hundreds have been killed and tens of thousands have fled for their lives in a power struggle between the army and Rapid Support Forces (RSF) that erupted on April 15 and disabled an internationally backed transition toward democratic elections.

In persisting ceasefire violations that the United States called worrying, heavy gunfire and detonations rattled residential neighbourhoods of the capital region where fighting has been concentrated over the past week.

Thick smoke was rising above two areas of Bahri.

“The situation this morning is very scary. We hear the sounds of planes and explosions. We don’t know when this hell will end,” said Bahri resident Mahasin al-Awad, 65.

“We’re in a constant state of fear for ourselves and our children.”

Sudan’s army has been directing air strikes with jets or drones on RSF forces spread out in neighbourhoods across the capital where many residents are pinned down by urban warfare with little access to food, fuel, water and electricity.

In a statement, the RSF accused the army of violating a U.S.- and Saudi-brokered truce pact by carrying out air strikes on its bases in Omdurman, Khartoum’s sister city at the confluence of the Blue and White Nile rivers, and Mount Awliya.

The army blamed the RSF for violations late on Thursday.

A Turkish evacuation plane came under fire as it was landing at Wadi Seyidna airport in Omdurman on Friday but there were no injuries, Turkey’s defence ministry said.

Shortly before, Sudan’s army accused the RSF of firing at the plane, damaging its fuel system which was being repaired after the aircraft managed to land safely. The RSF denied attacking the plane, accusing the army of “spreading lies”.

Lulls in the fighting in parts of Khartoum earlier this week allowed some residents to leave and foreign evacuations to pick up, but fighting has otherwise rumbled on through announced ceasefires. Analysts have questioned the ability of both sides to enforce respect for truces among their troops.

Violence has also resurged in the Darfur region, where conflict has simmered since a brutal civil war erupted two decades ago, and threatens to compound instability across a volatile swathe of Africa between the Sahel and the Red Sea.

U.N. humanitarian office spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani said at least 96 people had been killed in Darfur since Monday by inter-communal violence rekindled by the army-RSF conflict.

“It is deeply alarming that inmates have been released from or escaped from a number of prisons, and we are very worried about the prospect of further violence amid a generalised climate of impunity,” she told a briefing in Geneva.

The Sudan Doctors Union said on Friday that at least 387 civilians had been killed and 1,928 injured in the fighting since April 15, which has also caused a humanitarian crisis.

Relief agencies have been largely unable to distribute food to the needy in Africa’s third-largest country, where a third of its 46 million people were already reliant on donations.

Saudi Arabia said two more evacuation ships had arrived in Jeddah, across the Red Sea from Sudan, on Friday carrying 252 people in all from various countries.

Dodging the fighting wherever possible, Sudanese civilians have been fleeing Khartoum, one of Africa’s largest cities which had long been untouched by Sudan’s string of civil wars.

Among Sudan’s neighbours, Egypt said it had taken in 16,000 people, 20,000 had entered Chad and the U.N. refugee agency said over 14,000 had crossed into South Sudan, which won independence from Khartoum in 2011 after decades of disastrous civil war.

A UNHCR spokeswoman said some had walked from Khartoum to South Sudan’s border, a distance of over 400 km (250 miles).

The army and RSF said earlier they had agreed to extend the ceasefire to midnight on Sunday to prolong one that expired on Thursday night. That earlier truce induced relative calm in some areas, allowing diplomatic evacuations to gather pace.

Army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan’s office said on Friday he had received calls of support for restoring calm from several regional leaders including South Sudan’s president and Ethiopia’s prime minister, the Saudi foreign minister and a diplomatic grouping that includes the United States and Britain.

Friction had been building for months between Sudan’s army and the RSF, whose joint 2021 coup toppled a civilian coalition government and came two years after a popular uprising ousted veteran Islamist autocrat Omar al-Bashir.

Both the army and RSF were required to cede power to civilian parties under a transition plan meant to be finalised earlier this month but the process foundered over timing issues, including when the RSF would be absorbed into army ranks.

Related Galleries:

Plums of smoke rise amidst clashes between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the army, in Bahri, Khartoum North (filmed from Omdurman), Sudan April 28, 2023, in this screen grab from a social media video. Video Obtained by REUTERS

A man walks near a damaged car and buildings at the central market during clashes between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the army in Khartoum North, Sudan April 27, 2023. REUTERS/ Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah

People line up for checks at Port Sudan as Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy dispatched ships for an evacuation mission in Sudan April 26, 2023. cnsphoto via REUTERS

A girl evacuated from Sudan looks through the window of a bus after she arrives at the Soekarno-Hatta Airport in Tangerang, on the outskirts of Jakarta, Indonesia, April 28, 2023. REUTERS/Ajeng Dinar Ulfiana

Shells are seen on the ground near damaged buildings at the central market during clashes between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the army in Khartoum North, Sudan. April 27, 2023. REUTERS/ Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah

A burned vehicle is seen in Khartoum, Sudan April 26, 2023. REUTERS/El-Tayeb Siddig/File Photo