Fighting surges in Sudan as three-day ceasefire comes to an end

Army and RSF agree to extend truce but violence means no respite for exhausted civilians

Rival factions in Sudan agreed on Thursday night to extend a ceasefire despite reports of surging fighting across the country that many fear suggests intense violence in the days to come.

A 72-hour truce from Monday night had initially brought relative calm to Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, and so facilitated the evacuation of thousands of foreign nationals in recent days. But fighting between the Sudanese army and its paramilitary rival, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), escalated through Thursday in the city and its environs, as well as in the country’s restive south-west.

Residents of Omdurman, Khartoum’s neighbouring twin city, described “the worst day” yet as neighbourhoods were pummelled by repeated airstrikes.

Analysts said the extension of the truce for another 72 hours is unlikely to mean much respite for exhausted civilians desperate for peace after 12 days of conflict that has killed hundreds and led to a looming humanitarian catastrophe in the country of 45 million people.

The crisis in Sudan has pitted army units loyal to its de facto ruler, Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, against the RSF, a coalition of paramilitaries led by the warlord Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti. Both seek unchallenged control of Sudan’s crumbling state and resources.

An RSF statement accused the army of carrying out airstrikes on its forces on Thursday and spreading “false rumours”. In response, an army statement said its forces had taken control of most of the country’s regions but added that “the situation is a bit complicated in some parts of the capital”, noting it was in the process of defeating what it called a large deployment of RSF.

Foreign authorities involved in seeking to quell the fighting welcomed the extended ceasefire deal and urged full implementation.

In a joint statement, the African Union, the United Nations, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Britain and the United States applauded the two sides’ “readiness to engage in dialogue toward establishing a more durable cessation of hostilities and ensuring unimpeded humanitarian access.”

Doing so, they said, could be followed by a de-escalation plan.

Residents of Khartoum and Omdurman described picking spent bullets and shells from their roofs. Others spoke of burning homes and widespread looting.

“Is there a ceasefire? There’s none, that was just a talk … They will intensify the fighting until one side has won and they won’t care about people’s safety, God protect us,” said Mohamed al-Hajj, an artist in a neighbourhood of Omdurman that was particularly badly hit by airstrikes.

At least 512 people have been killed and close to 4,200 wounded by the fighting since 15 April, according to the Sudanese health ministry, though the true total is likely to be much higher.

The crisis has sent growing numbers of refugees across Sudan’s borders. About 14,000 Sudanese citizens have already entered Egypt, officials in Cairo said, and the UN reported that about 20,000 had already reached Chad.

Food, water and fuel is now expensive and scarce in Khartoum and only 16% of health facilities are still functioning, according to the World Health Organization. The acute hardships and continuing fighting have led to a stream of civilians leaving the main city, seeking security overseas, in other cities or in outlying districts of the capital.

Though much of the fighting has been in Khartoum, where RSF fighters have embedded themselves in residential areas, there has been a surge of violence in the western province of Darfur, where conflict has simmered since civil war erupted there two decades ago.

Armed fighters rampaged through El Geneina, the provincial capital of West Darfur, one of the region’s five provinces, on Thursday, battling each other and looting shops and homes, residents said.

Darfur has been a battleground between the military and the paramilitary RSF since the conflict began on 15 April and the fighting risks dragging in tribal militias, tapping into longtime hatred between the region’s two main communities – one that identifies as Arab and the other as east or central African.

Early on Thursday, fighters who mostly wore RSF uniforms attacked several neighbourhoods across El Geneina, driving many families from their homes. The violence then spiralled with tribal fighters joining the fray in the city of about half a million people located near the border with Chad.

“The attacks come from all directions,” said Amany, an El Geneina resident who asked to withhold her family name for her safety. “All are fleeing.”

It was often unclear who was fighting whom, with a mix of RSF and tribal militias – some allies of the RSF, some opponents – all running rampant. The military has largely withdrawn to its barracks, staying out of the clashes, and residents were taking up arms to defend themselves, said Dr Salah Tour, a board member of the Doctors Syndicate in West Darfur.

Fighters, some on motorcycles, roamed the streets, destroying and ransacking offices, shops and homes, several residents said. “It’s a scorched-earth war,” said Adam Haroun, a political activist in West Darfur.


El Geneina has already sustained significant damage during days of fighting. The city’s main open-air market has been destroyed, along with stockpiles of medicine in a warehouse. Government offices and aid agencies’ compounds have been repeatedly burned, including UN premises and the headquarters of the Sudanese Red Crescent.

Two major camps for displaced people had been burned down and their occupants – mainly women and children from African tribes – dispersed, said Abdel-Shafei Abdalla, a senior official with the General Coordination for Refugees and Displaced in Darfur, a local group that helps administer camps.

“The city is being destroyed,” said Tour. Almost all of El Geneina’s medical facilities, including its main hospital, had been out of service for days and the sole hospital still operating could not be reached because of fighting, he said.

Elsewhere in Darfur, there have been sporadic clashes, particularly in Nyala, the capital of South Darfur province. Thousands had fled their homes in Nyala and others are too afraid to go outside for food and water, Abdalla said. Earlier this month, fighters allegedly from the RSF destroyed and looted warehouses for aid agencies in Nyala, including that of the World Food Programme.

Reuters and Associated Press contributed reporting


Zeinab Mohammed Salih in Khartoum and Jason Burke

The GuardianTramp

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