Fighting in Sudan leaves more than 50 civilians dead

More than 50 civilians have died and hundreds more were injured in Sudan as intense fighting between the army and a rival paramilitary group continued for a second day.

The Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors, a pro-democracy non-governmental group, put the total number of civilian deaths at 56 as of Sunday morning, with “dozens” of military personnel also dying in the fighting, which broke out on Saturday.

The total number injured including military personnel was 595, with several dozens in critical condition.

The UN, the African Union, the US, Russia and China have all urged both sides to halt the fighting, which was triggered by a power struggle between the army headed by Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, president since October 2021, and Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, better known as Hemeti, Sudan’s vice-president and commander of the powerful paramilitary Rapid Support Forces.

The office of the UN Secretary General urged them “to immediately cease hostilities, restore calm and initiate a dialogue” adding that “any further escalation in the fighting will have a devastating impact on civilians”.

“We urge all actors to stop the violence immediately and avoid further escalations or troop mobilisation and continue talks to resolve outstanding issues,” US secretary of state Antony Blinken said in a statement.

The head of the World Food Programme, Cindy McCain, said she was “appalled and heartbroken by the tragic deaths of three” of the organisation’s employees in North Darfur, adding that one of their planes was “significantly damaged” in Khartoum “during an exchange of gunfire”, prompting the agency to halt operations in Sudan.

The warring sides, who according to eyewitnesses fought each other with rocket launchers, accused each other of starting the fight.

People familiar with al-Burhan’s thinking said there had been a disagreement between the general and Hemeti over command and integration of the paramilitary force — which was once deployed to Yemen to support the Gulf-led offensive against Houthi rebels — into the army.

Both sides claimed to have control of the presidential palace and the international airport in Khartoum, as well as some of each other’s bases. The Sudanese air force warned citizens not to go out, as there were sightings of fighter jets crossing the sky of the Sudanese capital.

According to Riyadh, Blinken and his counterparts from Saudi Arabia and the UAE — both countries seen as close to Hemeti — talked and affirmed the “need to end the military escalation”.

Members of the international community want the Sudanese leadership to return to a long-delayed “framework agreement” for transition to a civilian government amid promises from the army of elections this year.

Civilian and military leaders have been discussing potential agreements following the ousting of dictator Omar al-Bashir in 2019 after 30 years in power, and also after the 2021 coup that brought al-Burhan to power.

Former prime minister Abdalla Hamdok, who was once deposed by al-Burhan and Hemeti, called for them to stop the fighting.

“The bullet, when it escapes from the weapon, will not differentiate between the aggressor and the non-aggressor, and the victims are the Sudanese,” Hamdok said in a video posted on social media. He added: “I demand al-Burhan, the army commanders, and the RSF leaders to stop the bullets immediately and for the voice of reason to rule. There is no victor over the corpses of its people.”

But in a statement early on Sunday, the Sudanese armed forces had dismissed any possibility of talking to the RSF, which has its origins in the Janjaweed horseback militia that has been accused of committing atrocities in Darfur.

“No negotiation, no dialogue before the dissolution of the rebellious Hemeti militia”, the statement said, also calling Hemeti a “criminal”.

Hemeti told Al Jazeera Arabic that he “cannot give a time limit” on how long the fighting will end, also saying that “al-Burhan is a criminal”. 

Civilian leader Amjed Farid, a former adviser to Hamdok, condemned the infighting: “The all-out war that has been going on in Khartoum and various parts of Sudan over the heads of its citizens is the biggest indication and proof that the leadership of the military institutions does not care about the security of the country or the security of its citizens in anything.”

Additional reporting by Samer Al-Atrush in Dubai

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