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Bombardments rock Sudan capital for third day, US calls for ceasefire

2023-04-17T08:51:38Z

The United States on Monday called for a ceasefire in Sudan as the capital was bombarded for a third day in deadly fighting between rival military factions that threatens to derail the nation’s stumbling shift from autocracy to civilian rule.

At least 97 civilians have been killed and 365 injured since the fighting in Sudan started early on Saturday, according to a toll published by the Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors, an activist group. The government has not published a toll.

From early on Monday, bombardments and air strikes were heard in Khartoum for around two hours, before the heavy strikes abated but artillery fire continued, a Reuters reporter said.

The clashes, which have also spread to other parts of Sudan, are the first such outbreak of violence in the capital in recent decades and pit the armed forces against the powerful paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF). Leaders of the two sides hold the top two positions on Sudan’s ruling council.

A protracted power struggle raises the risk of Sudan falling into civil war four years after long-ruling autocrat Omar al-Bashir was toppled in an uprising, as well as derailing internationally-backed efforts to launch a civilian transition that was due to be signed earlier this month.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said an immediate ceasefire was needed, saying that view was shared by the international community.

“There is a shared deep concern about the fighting, violence that’s going on in Sudan – the threat that that poses to civilians, that it poses to the Sudanese nation and potentially poses even to the region,” Blinken said on the sidelines of a Group of Seven Foreign Ministers meeting in Japan.

He also called on Sudanese army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and RSF leader General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo to ensure the protection of civilians.

Burhan heads Sudan’s ruling council and Dagalo, known as Hemedti, is his deputy.

Social media users reported heavy gunfire and artillery across Khartoum and there were some reports of firing in the city of Omdurman, which lies across the Nile from Khartoum.

Overnight, residents reported the boom of artillery and roar of warplanes in the Kafouri district of Bahri, which has an RSF base and also adjoins Khartoum.

The eruption of fighting over the weekend followed rising tensions over the RSF’s integration into the military. Discord over the timetable for that has delayed the signing of an internationally-backed agreement with political parties on a transition to democracy after a 2021 military coup.

By Sunday it appeared that the army was gaining the upper hand in the fighting in Khartoum, using air strikes to pound RSF bases.

Witnesses and residents say a major problem has been posed by thousands of heavily armed RSF members deployed inside neighbourhoods of Khartoum and other cities.

The violence comes during the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast from dawn to dusk.

Burhan and Hemedti agreed a three-hour pause in fighting on Sunday from 4 p.m. local time (1400 GMT to 1700 GMT) to allow humanitarian evacuations proposed by the United Nations, the U.N. mission in Sudan said, but the deal was widely ignored after a brief period of relative calm.

The armed forces have said they would not negotiate with the RSF unless the force is dissolved, while RSF leader Hemedti, on Saturday called military chief Burhan a “criminal” and a “liar”.

Efforts by neighbours and regional bodies to end the violence intensified on Sunday. Egypt offered to mediate, and regional African bloc Intergovernmental Authority on Development plans to send the presidents of Kenya, South Sudan and Djibouti to Sudan as soon as possible to reconcile the groups in conflict, Kenyan President William Ruto’s office said on Twitter.

The U.N. World Food Programme said on Sunday it had temporarily halted all operations in hunger-stricken areas of Sudan after three Sudanese employees were killed during fighting in North Darfur and a WFP plane was hit during a gun battle at Khartoum airport.

Sudan has been affected by rising levels of hunger in recent years as an economic crisis has deepened. The WFP says it reached 9.3 million people in Sudan, one of its largest operations globally.

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Smoke rises from the tarmac of Khartoum International Airport as a fire burns, in Khartoum, Sudan April 17, 2023 in this screen grab obtained from a social media video. Abdullah Abdel Moneim/via REUTERS

Smoke rises from the tarmac of Khartoum International Airport as a fire burns, in Khartoum, Sudan April 17, 2023 in this screen grab obtained from a social media video. Abdullah Abdel Moneim/via REUTERS

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken waits behind closed doors before giving a joint statement with British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly on the situation in Sudan during a G7 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting at The Prince Karuizawa hotel in Karuizawa, Japan April 17, 2023. Andrew Harnik/Pool via REUTERS