Sudanese fighter jets pounded paramilitary positions in Khartoum on Thursday while deadly fighting and looting flared in Darfur, despite the army and a rival force agreeing to extend a ceasefire deal.
In the final hours of a repeatedly broken three-day ceasefire, due to end at midnight (2200 GMT), the army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) announced a 72-hour extension following pressure from Saudi Arabia and the United States.
There have been multiple truce efforts since fighting broke out on April 15 between Sudan’s army led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and the paramilitary RSF commanded by his deputy-turned-rival, Mohamed Hamdan Daglo. All have failed.
Foreign representatives involved in seeking to quell the fighting welcomed the extended ceasefire deal and urged full implementation.
In a joint statement, the African Union, the United Nations, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Britain and the United States applauded the two sides’ “readiness to engage in dialogue toward establishing a more durable cessation of hostilities and ensuring unimpeded humanitarian access”.
Doing so, they said, could be followed by a de-escalation plan mapped out in an April 20 blueprint for peace.
“We welcome the Sudanese Armed Forces and Rapid Support Forces’ announcement extending the ceasefire in Sudan by an additional 72 hours,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken posted on Twitter.
– ‘Intense shelling outside’ –
On Thursday, warplanes flew over the capital’s northern suburbs as fighters on the ground exchanged artillery and heavy machine gun fire, witnesses said.
“I hear intense shelling outside my home,” a Khartoum resident told AFP on Thursday evening, asking not to be named.
At least 512 people have been killed and 4,193 wounded in the fighting, according to health ministry figures, although the real death toll is likely much higher.
Hospitals have been shelled and more than two-thirds are out of service, the doctors’ union said, reporting at least eight civilians killed in Khartoum alone on Wednesday.
The World Food Programme has said the violence could plunge millions more into hunger in a country where 15 million people — one-third of the population — need aid.
Abdou Dieng, UN aid chief in Sudan, speaking from Port Sudan on Thursday, said he was “extremely worried about the situation”, with food supplies a huge concern.
– Violence beyond Khartoum –
Fighting has also flared in the provinces, particularly in the war-torn western region of Darfur.
Witnesses said clashes raged for a second day in the West Darfur capital El Geneina, with pro-democracy medics reporting a doctor shot dead.
“We are locked up at home and too afraid to go out, so we can’t assess the scale of the damage,” said a resident, who asked to remain anonymous for safety reasons.
The UN humanitarian agency said the fighting in West Darfur had disrupted food to “an estimated 50,000 acutely malnourished children”.
The violence has trapped many civilians in their homes, where they have endured severe food, water and electricity shortages.
Those who can afford to have taken the long and risky journey to flee the country.
Egypt said Thursday that at least 14,000 Sudanese refugees had crossed the border since fighting erupted, as well as 2,000 people from 50 other countries.
“End the war,” 50-year-old refugee Ashraf told the warring generals after entering Egypt. “This is your own conflict, not that of the Sudanese people.”
At least 20,000 people have escaped into Chad, 4,000 into South Sudan, 3,500 into Ethiopia and 3,000 into the Central African Republic, according to the UN, which has warned if fighting continues as many as 270,000 people could flee.
– War crimes suspect escapes –
Foreign governments have scrambled to get thousands of their citizens out, and UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly urged Britons to leave while they can.
The latest Saudi evacuation ship docked in the Red Sea port of Jeddah on Thursday to take the total evacuated by Riyadh to 2,744, only 119 of them Saudis, the foreign ministry said.
As lawlessness has gripped Sudan, there have been several jailbreaks, including from the high-security Kober prison where top aides of ousted dictator Omar al-Bashir were held.
Among the escapees is Ahmed Harun, wanted by the International Criminal Court to face charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.
Harun’s escape sparked fears of the involvement of Bashir loyalists in the ongoing fighting.
The army said 79-year-old Bashir was in a military hospital and moved before the fighting erupted.
Daglo’s RSF emerged from the Janjaweed militia, accused of carrying out atrocities during Bashir’s brutal suppression of ethnic-minority rebels in Darfur in the mid-2000s.
Bashir was toppled by the military in April 2019 following civilian mass protests that raised hopes for a transition to democracy.
The two generals seized power together in a 2021 coup, but later fell out, most recently over the planned integration of the RSF into the regular army.
© Agence France-Presse