Civilian death toll reaches 97 as Sudan battles intensify on third day

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Sudan’s embattled capital awoke on Monday to a third day of heavy fighting between the army and a powerful rival force for control of the country, as the weekend’s civilian death toll rose to 97.

Air strikes and shelling intensified in parts of Khartoum and the adjoining city of Omdurman.

Rapid, sustained firing was heard near the military headquarters, with white smoke rising from the area. Residents reported power outages and incidents of looting.

The clashes are part of a power struggle between General Abdel-Fattah Burhan, commander of the armed forces, and General Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, head of the Rapid Support Forces, a paramilitary group.

Smoke rises from a central neighbourhood of Khartoum where Sudanese armed forces and a paramilitary group are battling for control of the chaos-stricken nation (Marwan Ali/AP)

Both men have dug in, saying they will not negotiate a truce, instead engaging in verbal attacks and demanding the other’s surrender.

Nevertheless, both have powerful foreign backers, making them potentially susceptible to mounting diplomatic pressure.

Since fighting erupted on Saturday, 97 civilians have been killed and hundreds more have been wounded, said the Sudan Doctors’ Syndicate, a pro-democracy group monitoring casualties.

There has been no official word on the number of fighters killed.

Footage posted online on Monday purported to show RSF barracks in Omdurman, with the bodies of dozens of men in camouflage uniforms sprawled on beds and the floor of a medical ward and in a sandy outdoor area. Another video showed civilians inside the base, apparently looting food.

The authenticity of the videos could not be confirmed independently, but they surfaced after the military said it had targeted RSF bases with air strikes.

The burning Ministry of Defence building and other damaged buildings in Khartoum (Satellite image ©2023 Maxar Technologies/AP)

The doctors’ group said a stray shell struck a hospital south of Khartoum on Monday morning, without causing casualties.

The chaotic scenes of fighting with tanks, truck-mounted machine guns, artillery and warplanes in densely populated areas of the capital are unprecedented. Sudan has a long history of civil strife, but much of that has taken place in remote tribal areas, far from Khartoum.

The violence erupted during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan which ends later this week and is capped by the three-day Eid al-Fitr holiday.

On Sunday, the warring sides agreed to a three-hour suspension of fighting to allow civilians to stock up on necessities but compliance was patchy, and there were reports of casualties during the humanitarian pause.

Top diplomats urged the sides to stop fighting, including the US Secretary of State, the UN secretary-general, the EU foreign policy chief, the head of the Arab League and the head of the African Union Commission. The UN Security Council was to discuss the developments in Sudan later on Monday.

Japan US Blinken G7 Foreign Ministers
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken renewed his call for a truce and return to negotiations during a meeting of the G7 in Japan (Andrew Harnik/AP/Pool)

“People in Sudan want the military back in the barracks,” he said. “They want democracy. They want the civilian-led government. Sudan needs to return to that path.”

The fighting also spread to the war-wrecked western Darfur region, and areas of northern and eastern Sudan, near the borders with Egypt and Ethiopia.

Over the weekend, the World Food Programme suspended its operations in Sudan after three of its employees were killed in fighting in Darfur.

In recent months, negotiations had been under way to get back on a path to democracy. Under international pressure, Generals Burhan and Dagalo agreed a framework deal with political parties and pro-democracy groups.

However, the agreement was vague on key points of dispute, including how the RSF would be integrated into the armed force and who would have final control.

The signing of the deal was put off repeatedly, amid rising tensions between the two men.

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