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A month into Sudan's brutal war, no end in sight

By AFP - May 16,2023 - Last updated at May 16,2023

Smoke billows in Khartoum amid ongoing fighting between the forces of two rival generals on Thursday (AFP photo)

KHARTOUM — One month since Sudan's conflict erupted, its capital is a desolate war zone where terrorised families huddle at home as gun battles rage, while the western Darfur region has descended into deadly chaos.

Residents of Khartoum have endured weeks of desperate shortages of food and basic supplies, power blackouts, communications outages and runaway inflation.

The capital of five million, long a place of relative stability, has become a shell of its former self.

Charred aircraft lie on the airport tarmac, foreign embassies are shuttered and hospitals, banks, shops and wheat silos have been ransacked by looters.

Violence also renewed in El Geneina, the capital of West Darfur state, leaving hundreds killed and the health system in "total collapse", medics said.

Fighting continued on Monday morning, with loud explosions heard across Khartoum and thick smoke billowing in the sky while warplanes drew anti-aircraft fire, according to witnesses. 

"The situation is becoming worse by the day," said a 37-year-old resident of southern Khartoum who did not wish to be named.

"People are getting more and more scared because the two sides... are becoming more and more violent." 

The fighting broke out on April 15 between army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his former deputy Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, who leads the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

What remains of the government has retreated to Port Sudan about 850 kilometres away, the hub for mass evacuations.

Around 1,000 people have been killed during the fighting, mainly in and around Khartoum as well as the ravaged West Darfur state, according to medics. 

Violence on Friday and Saturday alone in El Geneina left at least 280 killed, according to Sudan’s doctors union, which cited “difficulties in surveying all casualties”. 

“There was still heavy shelling on Sunday that hit my home, damaging a part of it and injuring one of my sisters,” said a resident of El Geneina. 

“Other houses around us were completely destroyed.” 

In their latest moves, Burhan declared that he was freezing the RSF’s assets, while Daglo threatened in an audio recording that the army chief would be “brought to justice and hanged” in a public square.


History of coups 


Sudan has a long history of military coups, but hopes had risen after mass protests led to the ouster of Islamist-backed strongman Omar Al Bashir in 2019, followed by a shaky transition toward civilian rule.

As Washington and other foreign powers lifted sanctions, Sudan was slowly reintegrating into the international community, before the generals derailed that transition with another coup in 2021.

Despite the bullets, aerial bombardments and anti-aircraft fire of recent weeks, neither side has been able to seize the battlefield advantage.

The army, backed by Egypt, has the advantage of air power while Daglo is, according to experts, supported by the United Arab Emirates and foreign fighters. 

Daglo commands troops that stemmed from the notorious Janjaweed militia, accused of atrocities in the Darfur war that began two decades ago.

For now, “both sides believe that they can win militarily”, US Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told a recent Senate hearing.

Multiple truce deals have been violated as hopes dimmed for an end to the fighting.

Both sides “break ceasefires with a regularity that demonstrates a sense of impunity unprecedented even by Sudan’s standards of civil conflict,” said Alex Rondos, the European Union’s former special representative to the Horn of Africa.

The security breakdown has broadened to the country’s far-flung regions where ethnic violence last week left over 50 killed in the central West Kordofan and the southern White Nile states, according to the UN. 


 ‘Poorer for longer’ 


The fighting has deepened the humanitarian crisis in Sudan, where one in three people already relied on humanitarian assistance before the war.

Since then, aid agencies have been looted and at least 18 of their workers killed. 

Across the Red Sea, in the Saudi city of Jeddah, envoys from both sides have been negotiating.

By May 11 they had signed a commitment to respect humanitarian principles, including allowing in badly needed aid.

But, “absent a significant change of mindset... it is hard to see that commitments on paper will be fulfilled,” said Aly Verjee, a Sudan researcher at Sweden’s University of Gothenburg.

Sudan has had a long history of conflicts, especially in Darfur, where Bashir from 2003 unleashed the Janjaweed to quash a rebellion by non-Arab ethnic minorities.

The scorched-earth campaign killed up to 300,000 people and uprooted more than 2.7 million, the UN said. 

According to the health ministry, the bulk of deaths during the current fighting have occurred in Darfur.

With hospitals gutted, “there are also reports of people dying from the injuries they sustained in the early days of fighting”, said Mohamed Osman of Human Rights Watch.

Doctors Without Borders said food shortages in Darfur displacement camps mean “people have gone from three meals a day to just one”.

Verjee said the fighting has caused “the partial deindustrialisation of Sudan”.

“This means that any future Sudan will be much poorer for much longer.”


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