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Battle Continues in Khartoum as Sudan's Rivals Ignore Cease-Fire

Smoke rises behind buildings in Khartoum, Sudan, on April 19, 2023, as fighting between the army and paramilitaries raged for a fifth day after a 24-hour truce collapsed.
Smoke rises behind buildings in Khartoum, Sudan, on April 19, 2023, as fighting between the army and paramilitaries raged for a fifth day after a 24-hour truce collapsed.

The battle in the streets of Sudan's capital continued Wednesday as the country’s two warring factions ignored a 24-hour cease-fire.

Loud explosions and gunfire could be seen and heard in central Khartoum around the defense ministry and the city’s international airport as fighters swarmed otherwise empty streets.

The fighting raged throughout Tuesday night despite public declarations by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, the commander of Sudan’s armed forces, and General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, head of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces earlier Tuesday to observe a cease-fire amid pressure from the United States, United Nations and African leaders to end four days of fighting that has forced many Khartoum residents to shelter in their homes.

The pledges came after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke by phone to both Burhan and Dagalo, urging them to halt the fighting, in part to permit delivery of humanitarian aid.

The U.S. State Department said Blinken urged Burhan and Dagalo to allow the international community in Khartoum “to make sure its presence is secure” and stressed the responsibility of the two generals “to ensure the safety and well-being of civilians, diplomatic personnel and humanitarian workers.”

Secretary Blinken’s call to the two Sudanese rivals was one of many from the international community urging peace in the north African country. A communique issued Tuesday by foreign ministers from the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations as they met in Karuizawa, Japan condemned the fighting. The foreign ministers said the fighting “threatens the security and safety of Sudanese civilians and undermines efforts to restore Sudan’s democratic transition.”

Fighting between the Sudanese military and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces broke out Saturday after months of rising tension over the country’s political future and plans to integrate the RSF into the national army.

The head of the World Health Organization said Tuesday that according to Sudanese authorities, 270 people have been killed in the fighting and more than 2,600 injured.

But the true nature of the death toll is uncertain because authorities have not been able to retrieve the bodies of those killed in the streets due to the heavy fighting.

VOA reporter Michael Atit said a number of hospitals have been closed because of damage or insecurity.

Large portions of the capital were without electricity and water. The violence also affected Khartoum's adjoining sister cities of Omdurman and Bahri, with bridges linking the cities blocked by armored vehicles.

The U.S. Embassy issued a fresh alert to American citizens in Sudan strongly advising them to remain indoors and shelter in place. It said due to insecurity and the closure of the airport, there are no plans for a U.S. government-coordinated evacuation.

But Japan announced Wednesday that it has begun plans to evacuate about 60 Japanese citizens from Sudan aboard military planes due to the worsening situation in Khartoum.

Calls for dialogue

Residents of Khartoum said there has been no police presence on the city's streets since the clashes began.

The European Union said its envoy to Sudan was assaulted in his residence on Monday but did not give further details.

Blinken confirmed that a U.S. diplomatic convoy came under fire Monday, adding that initial reports indicated the attack was by forces linked to the Rapid Support Forces.

Calls to end the fighting have come from around the world and within Africa, including the African Union, the Arab League and IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority on Development).

IGAD said Kenyan President William Ruto, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and Djibouti’s President Omar Guelleh will go to Khartoum to broker an immediate cease-fire.

"President Salva Kiir has already been in touch with both General Burhan and General Hemedti to convey the message of the summit. … Now, preparations are on the way to undertake this mission," Nuur Mohamud Sheekh, a spokesperson for IGAD's executive secretary, told VOA.

Sudan's two top generals, however, have yet to express a willingness to negotiate and each has demanded the other's surrender.

Dagalo said Monday on Twitter that he was defending democracy in Sudan and called Burhan a "radical Islamist." Dagalo's forces emerged from the notorious Janjaweed militias in Sudan's Darfur region and have been accused of carrying out atrocities in the region.

The clashes are part of a power struggle between General Burhan, who also heads the transitional council, and General Dagalo, also known as Hemedti, the deputy head of the transitional council. The two generals joined forces in October 2021 to overthrow the transitional government formed after the 2019 ouster of longtime autocratic leader Omar al-Bashir.

The restructuring of the military was part of an effort to restore the country to civilian rule and end the political crisis.

VOA English to Africa's Carol Van Dam Falk, VOA Africa correspondent Mariama Diallo, VOA U.N. correspondent Margaret Besheer, VOA White House correspondent Anita Powell, VOA State Department Bureau Chief Nike Ching and VOA reporter Michael Atit contributed to this report. Some information for this article came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.