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With Shouts and Machine Guns, War Plays Out in Sudan

RSF fighters stand near the damaged Air Defence Forces command center in Khartoum, Sudan, May 17, 2023, in this screen grab obtained from a social media video. (RSF via Twitter/via Reuters)
RSF fighters stand near the damaged Air Defence Forces command center in Khartoum, Sudan, May 17, 2023, in this screen grab obtained from a social media video. (RSF via Twitter/via Reuters)

KHARTOUM, SUDAN — On a sandy lot below a Khartoum apartment building, helmetless Sudanese soldiers in a mishmash of uniforms raised their fists as machine gunners blasted away from atop two small trucks.

It was another day in a war that has not stopped for more than a month, and continued Wednesday, as the United Nations reported that more than half of the country's people, 25 million, need aid and protection, Ramesh Rajasingham, head of the U.N. humanitarian agency's Geneva bureau, told reporters there.

Analysts say neither side — the army led by chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces led by his former deputy Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo — has been able to seize an advantage on the battlefield.

And the capital, Khartoum, has become a war zone.

In front of a five-story apartment building, some soldiers on Tuesday stood casually with rocket-propelled grenade launchers while another danced about with a belt-fed machine gun while the ground around him appeared littered with dozens of spent large-caliber shell casings.

Soldiers shouted as machine guns fired from atop a pickup truck, a small, armored car and a tank beside some trees near a billboard for a car showroom.

The clear blue sky was marred only by faint dark smoke rising behind them.

In other parts of the capital, long mounds of dirt are piled beside roads where military trenches have been dug.

With bullets flying, Rajasingham said millions remained confined to their homes, unable to access basic services and health care.
More than 5,000 people have been injured.

In Africa's third-largest country, many areas remain untouched by the fighting but still suffer its effects, with soaring prices and shortages of fuel.

"Petrol is not available now and the price has increased on the black market. People can't transport their vegetables," said Abu Bakr Abdullah, 27, a farmer in River Nile state.

Another farmer, Qamar al-Bashir, 52, complained that four years have passed since longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir was toppled, but "they have not been able to form a government."

A coup in 2021 by Burhan and Dagalo derailed a fragile transition to civilian rule.

"Enough!" the farmer said. "You can't move the country forward, do you move it backwards? And at the end you take us to war for your own personal interests."

They "are losers," all of them, he said.

Last Thursday the warring sides signed in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, a commitment to respect humanitarian principles and allow in badly needed aid.

"However, reports of attacks continued and, on 12 May, violence in El Geneina reportedly escalated," a U.N. report said.

Toby Harward, of the U.N.'s refugee agency, reported an "extremely disturbing" situation in El Geneina, the West Darfur capital.

Hundreds of civilians have been killed in militia attacks on residential areas and street battles between "community-aligned forces." There has also been looting and destruction at markets, camps for displaced people, and other locations, he wrote on Twitter.

In Khartoum North, a factory that produced food to treat malnourished children burned down, according to the U.N. children's fund.

Still, Rajasingham voiced hope the Jeddah agreement was having some effect.

He said fighters had pulled back from some of the health facilities that were previously occupied and highlighted an uptick in aid deliveries.

"We do need much more," he said.

Sudan's war is expected to be a major agenda item during the Arab League summit on Friday in Saudi Arabia.

Heavyweights in the pan-Arab bloc are divided on Sudan, with Egypt supporting Burhan and the United Arab Emirates, according to experts, seen to be backing the RSF.