‘Burhan and Hemedti are both genocidaires’: activists despair as Sudan violence surges

Sudanese campaigners describe their fears amid escalating clashes between forces loyal to the two generals, as well as their anger over warnings ignored

The Sudanese people will continue to resist military forces that usurped the transition to democratic rule, says the protester who has become known as “the Spiderman of Sudan”.

The young teacher, who became known as “Spidey” for the costume he wore to protests against the military coup in 2021, said a friend had already been killed in heavy fighting between the Sudanese army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), which erupted on Saturday.

Activists feared a power struggle was inevitable between the army and the RSF, which led a coup against the transitional government put in place after Omar al-Bashir was ousted as president in 2019.

Five days ago, the clash between forces led by Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, head of Sudan’s transitional governing sovereign council, and the RSF leader, Gen Mohamed Hamdan Dagolo, known as Hemedti, spilled out on to the city’s streets.

At least 270 people had been killed and more than 2,600 wounded since fighting began, the director general of the UN’s World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said on Wednesday, without giving a breakdown of civilians and combatants killed. The WHO said hospitals were running out of critical supplies.

A man dressed in a Spider-Man costume waves a flag from a rooftop at a rally
The Sudanese activist who became known as ‘Spidey’ at an anti-coup rally in Khartoum last year. Photograph: Courtesy of Native Voice Films

“Hemedti, Burhan – we don’t want any of them. They are all criminals. They killed the people, they killed our brothers,” said Spidey, who confronted bullets, teargas and water cannons while dressed in his now-familiar costume and mask.

“The revolution will continue. We will stop them. We condemn them – the army, the RSF, the mercenaries. The revolution will continue till we have democracy,” he said.

The activist said a friend had been killed by the army in the capital, Khartoum, which has experienced constant gunfire and explosions in recent days. Clashes have been also reported in other cities, including Nyala in Darfur.

Nisreen Elsaim, a climate activist who lives near Khartoum’s military headquarters, said: “We have military cars in front of and behind our house; we’re very much stuck and can’t go out.

“We lost electricity and water; many of the people don’t have enough supplies. It’s very bad and no one was ready for this.”

A young Sudanese woman in a headscarf looks off-camera
The Sudanese activist Nisreen Elsaim at the Cop27 climate summit in Egypt last year. ‘People will not allow the Islamists to come back,’ she says. Photograph: Nariman El-Mofty/AP

Elsaim said she believed an army faction that supported the Islamist movement previously headed by Bashir wanted to use the fighting to gain power by attacking the RSF.

“Whatever happens people will not allow the Islamists to come back,” she said. “All of us are just waiting for this to end because we can’t do anything.”

Dallia Mohamed Abdelmoniem, a former journalist living in Khartoum, said she had been concerned about rising tensions, but could not have predicted the intensity of the violence.

“I didn’t think we would reach this point,” she said. “I know there were major issues, but ever since the coup I knew it was a losing battle and every delay just emboldened both the army and the RSF.

“My nerves are shot,” she added. “No sleep; no respite from the ammo being fired. Non-stop gunfire, artillery shots, blasts from RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades] or what exactly I don’t know.

“It’s been like this since Saturday morning. Some of the blasts literally shake the house. I can hear the fighter jets now.”

Hemedti’s RSF forces are particularly controversial, having grown out of the Janjaweed militias accused of genocide in Darfur, and were responsible for the massacre of more than 100 demonstrators during protests to oust Bashir in 2019.

A soldier in fatigues poses with an array of heavy machine gus
Sudanese soldiers, loyal to the army chief Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, display heavy machine guns seized from a base of the rival paramilitary RSF in Khartoum. Photograph: Sudanese Armed Forces/UPI/Shutterstock

Hemedti’s influence has increased since Bashir’s removal, when he and Burhan became the most prominent military leaders in a government that promised a transition to civilian rule, until they carried out the military coup.

Abdelmoniem said both Sudanese politicians and others in the wider region had placated the military, ignoring the will of the Sudanese people, who did not trust them.

“The international community ignored the protesters, ignored our demands and listened to the ‘adults’ – the same adults who couldn’t deal with Bashir for 30 years until the people said enough is enough,” she said. “Everyone jumped on the protesters’ bandwagons but decidedly ignored them when it came time for negotiations.”

Another activist, Elbashir Idris, said civilians had become “cannon fodder” for the army and RSF, insisting that any future peace negotiations had to involve civil society leaders as well as international mediators.

“The signs have been there – we’ve warned international organisations, warned about what could happen,” said Idris. “I was there in the protests [after the coup] and saw how the RSF forces, police forces and paramilitary forces were using excessive and dangerous lethal force.”

Even if the violence eased, both the RSF and the Islamist faction were so embedded in the government that they posed a threat to future stability, warned Idris.

“We’re dealing with almost a cancer, as Khartoum and other cities are dealing with RSF personnel just in civilian clothing. We’ve seen the damage they’ve done in Darfur and the genocides there. Burhan and Hemedti are both genocidaires.”

A silhouette of a large-calibre bullet held up in front of a window with bullet holes
A civilian holds up a large-calibre bullet after skirmishes between the Sudanese army and RSF paramilitaries in Khartoum. Photograph: EPA

Altahir Hashim, a Sudanese refugee from Darfur who lives in the UK, said he was worried about the rising violence but not surprised. “We have been going through this for decades and I don’t think this will end today or tomorrow,” he said. “We saw that after the revolution overthrew Bashir and they brought in Hemedti that one day this would come.

“If you know what happened in Darfur, you for sure know what is coming because of all the terrible, hideous crimes that were committed without punishment – then you bring in the person responsible and share power with him.”


Kaamil Ahmed

The GuardianTramp

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