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Heavy fighting in Khartoum as US warns of protracted war

2023-05-04T15:23:39Z

A man walks while smoke rises above buildings after aerial bombardment, during clashes between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the army in Khartoum North, Sudan, May 1, 2023. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah

Sudan’s conflict is likely to be protracted, U.S. intelligence warned on Thursday, as the Sudanese army tried to dislodge the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary from its positions near central Khartoum installations in fierce fighting.

Each side appears to be battling for control of territory in the capital ahead of any possible negotiations, though the leaders of both factions have shown little public willingness to hold talks after more than two weeks of fighting.

“Both sides believe they can win militarily and have few incentives to come to the negotiating table,” U.S. Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington.

With fighting having continued despite both sides agreeing to repeated ceasefire deals, the White House said on Thursday it may sanction those responsible for destabilising Sudan.

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.

It results from a power struggle between two rival factions, the army and RSF, that had shared power after a coup in 2021, derailing efforts to bring democracy and civilian rule after a 2019 popular uprising that unseated strongman Omar al-Bashir.

U.S. President Joe Biden called the violence a betrayal of the Sudanese people’s demands for civilian government and said the U.S. stood ready to offer humanitarian assistance “when conditions allow”.

The sound of bombardment and clashes rang out in Khartoum and its adjoining cities of Omdurman and Bahri on Thursday in violation of the latest, seven-day, truce agreement. The army was trying to push the RSF from positions around the presidential palace and military headquarters.

“Since yesterday evening, and this morning, there are air strikes and the sounds of clashes,” said Al-Sadiq Ahmed, a 49-year-old engineer speaking from Khartoum.

“We’ve got into a state of permanent terror because the battles are around the centres of residential neighbourhoods. We don’t know when this nightmare and the fear will end.”

The United Nations, meanwhile, pressed the warring factions to guarantee safe passage of aid after six trucks were looted.

U.N. aid chief Martin Griffiths said he hoped to have face-to-face meetings with both sides within two to three days to secure guarantees from them for aid convoys.

The U.N. has warned that fighting between the army and RSF, which erupted on April 15, risks causing a humanitarian catastrophe that could spill into other countries.

Sudan said on Tuesday that 550 people had died and 4,926 people been wounded so far in the conflict.

About 100,000 people have fled Sudan with little food or water to neighbouring countries, the U.N. says.

The civilian toll has been exacerbated by the warring sides’ use of explosive weapons including tanks, artillery, rockets and airstrikes in populated areas, Human Rights Watch said on Thursday, accusing them of reckless disregard for civilian life.

Meanwhile the conflict has dealt a crippling blow to the heart of the country’s economy in the capital Khartoum, disrupted internal trade routes, threatened imports and triggered a cash crunch.

Across swathes of the capital factories, banks, shops and markets have been looted or damaged, power and water supplies have been failing, and residents have reported steep price rises and shortages of basic goods.

The army said it killed RSF fighters and destroyed a number of vehicles “belonging to the rebels”, after clashing with the group in the Bahri military region.

The army and RSF joined forces had shared power as part of an internationally backed transition towards free elections and civilian government, before falling out over the transition.

The RSF accused the army of breaching a ceasefire and attacking forces since dawn. It said the army attacked its residential neighbourhoods with artillery and aircraft in a “cowardly manner”.