WORLD

Fighting rages in Sudan hours after cease-fire was to begin

Apr 18, 2023, 12:04 AM | Updated: 2:12 pm

This satellite photo from Planet Labs PBC shows damaged aircraft, including one on fire, at Khartou...

This satellite photo from Planet Labs PBC shows damaged aircraft, including one on fire, at Khartoum International Airport in Khartoum, Sudan, Monday, April 17, 2023. Satellite images from Planet Labs PBC analyzed Tuesday by The Associated Press show the extent of the destruction from days of fighting in Sudan between rival military forces, including some 20 aircraft either damaged or destroyed at Khartoum's airport. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(Planet Labs PBC via AP)

KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) — Fighting raged in Sudan on Tuesday hours after an internationally brokered truce was supposed to have come into effect, as forces loyal to dueling generals battled for key locations in the capital and accused each other of violating the cease-fire.

The humanitarian truce came after days of intense efforts by top diplomats on four continents and had raised hopes of sparing Africa’s third largest country from civil war. But each side still appeared determined to vanquish the other, despite the suffering of millions of civilians trapped by the fighting.

Residents said they still heard gunfire and explosions in different parts of the capital, Khartoum, particularly around the military’s headquarters and the Republican Palace. They said few people had ventured out, though there were crowds outside some bakeries.

“The fighting remains underway,” Atiya Abdulla Atiya of the Sudan Doctors’ Syndicate told The Associated Press. “We are hearing constant gunfire.”

Sudanese in the capital and in other cities have been hiding in their homes, caught in the crossfire as rival forces pounded residential areas with artillery and airstrikes and engaged in gunbattles outside. Residents say dead bodies in the streets are unreachable because of clashes, with the toll likely to be far higher than the 185 dead reported by the U.N. since fighting began Saturday.

The conflict between the armed forces, led by Gen. Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, has once again derailed Sudan’s transition to democratic rule after decades of dictatorship and civil war.

Pro-democracy groups and political parties had recently reached an agreement with the two generals — who jointly led a 2021 coup — but it was never signed and is now in tatters.

The RSF immediately accused the military of violating the cease-fire after it came into effect at 6 p.m. local time (1600 GMT). The army said the “rebellious militia” continued its attacks around the military headquarters and launched a failed attack on a military base to the south.

Atiya said the Fadil Hospital in Khartoum was hit by shelling after the truce took effect, damaging a medical gas pipeline and water systems. It’s one of at least 12 hospitals in and around the capital that have been forced to shut down because of the fighting, out of a total of around 20.

The U.S. Embassy said late Tuesday that there has been “ongoing” fighting in Khartoum and surrounding areas, and advised Americans in Sudan to shelter in place. It said there were no immediate plans for a government-coordinated evacuation.

Over the past day, fighters in Khartoum attacked a U.S. Embassy convoy and stormed the home of the EU envoy to Sudan, though neither attack caused casualties. The convoy of clearly marked U.S. Embassy vehicles was attacked Monday, and preliminary reports link the assailants to the RSF, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters.

Blinken spoke by phone late Monday separately with both generals, seeking a 24-hour halt in fighting as a foundation for a longer truce and return to negotiations. Egypt, which backs the Sudanese military, and Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which have close ties to the RSF, have also been calling on all sides to stand down.

Dagalo said in a series of tweets Tuesday that he had approved a 24-hour humanitarian truce after speaking to Blinken. The military initially said the coming hours would bring the “crushing defeat” of the RSF and only publicly committed to the truce after it began.

Shortly before the start of the cease-fire, a coalition of political parties and pro-democracy groups said it received “positive positions” from leaders of the military and the RSF on the daylong humanitarian pause. It said in a statement that discussions were underway to “solidify that truce.”

More tanks and armored vehicles belonging to the military rolled into Khartoum early Tuesday, heading toward the military’s headquarters and the Republican Palace, residents said. During the night, fighter jets swooped overhead and anti-aircraft fire lit up the sky.

Each side already has tens of thousands of troops distributed around Khartoum and the city of Omdurman on the opposite bank of the Nile River. Terrified residents trapped in their homes for days have hoped for a halt long enough at least to get supplies or move to safer areas. The fighting erupted suddenly at the start of the last week of the Islamic holy month of fasting, Ramadan.

“We are trying to take advantage of Ramadan to try to continue our faith and prayer,” said Mohammed Al Faki, one of 89 students and staffers trapped in the engineering building at Khartoum University. “We are trying to help each other stay patient until this crisis is over.”

One student was killed by a sniper, he said, and they buried his body on the campus. The students and staff have had to go out for supplies occasionally, risking harassment by RSF fighters battling troops nearby, he said.

“They are attacking us on the streets. They are looting. If you are walking, they will take even your phone from you in the street,” the 19-year-old student said of the RSF.

U.N. figures have put the toll from fighting at more than 185 dead and 1,800 wounded, without providing a breakdown of civilians and combatants. The Sudan Doctors’ Syndicate said Tuesday that at least 144 civilians were killed and more than 1,400 wounded but that many dead could still not be reached to be counted.

Videos posted online Tuesday showed Souq al-Bahri, a large outdoor market in northern Khartoum, in flames from nearby clashes. Satellite images from Maxar Technologies taken Monday showed damage across Khartoum, including to security service buildings. Tanks stood guard at a bridge over the White Nile River and other locations.

Satellite images from Planet Labs PBC, also taken Monday, showed some 20 damaged civilian and military aircraft at Khartoum International Airport, which has a military section. Some had been completely destroyed, with one still belching smoke. At the El Obeid and Merowe air bases, north and south of Khartoum, several fighter jets were among the destroyed aircraft.

The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, tweeted Monday that the EU ambassador to Sudan “was assaulted in his own residency,” without providing further details.

A Western diplomat in Cairo said the residence was ransacked by armed men in RSF uniforms. No one was hurt but the armed men stole several items, said the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

Early on Sunday, the Norwegian ambassador’s residence was hit by a shell, causing damage but no injuries, Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt said.

The fighting is the latest chapter in Sudan’s turmoil since a popular uprising four years ago helped depose long-time autocrat Omar al-Bashir.

Burhan and Dagalo jointly orchestrated an October 2021 coup, derailing efforts to enshrine a civilian government. Both generals have a long history of human rights abuses, and their forces have cracked down on pro-democracy activists.

Under international pressure, Burhan and Dagalo recently agreed to a framework agreement with political parties and pro-democracy groups. But the signing was repeatedly delayed as tensions rose over the integration of the RSF into the armed forces and the future chain of command — tensions that exploded into violence Saturday. ___ Magdy reported from Cairo. Associated Press writers Fay Abuelgasim in Beirut, Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Matthew Lee in Karuizawa, Japan, contributed to this report.

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