Armed fighters have rampaged through a city in Sudan’s war-ravaged region of Darfur, battling each other and looting shops and homes, residents said.
The violence came despite a fragile three-day truce between Sudan’s two top generals, whose power struggle has killed hundreds.
The mayhem in the city of Genena illustrated how the fight for control in the capital Khartoum is spiralling into violence in other parts of Sudan.
The relative calm has allowed foreign governments to airlift out hundreds of citizens, while tens of thousands of Sudanese have streamed out of Khartoum, seeking safer areas or escape abroad.
The military, led by General Abdel Fattah Burhan, said late on Thursday that it had accepted a 72-hour ceasefire extension brokered by the US and Saudi Arabia. There was no immediate comment from its rivals in the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces, led by General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo.
US secretary of state Antony Blinken said earlier that “we are very actively working to extend the ceasefire”.
“We’ve had a 72-hour ceasefire which, like most ceasefires, is imperfect but nonetheless has reduced violence,” he said. “We want to make sure that, if possible, this is extended. We’re very actively engaged on that. I hope and expect to have more information on that in the coming hours.”
Darfur has been a battleground between the military and the paramilitary RSF since the conflict began nearly two weeks ago. Residents said the fighting in Genena is dragging in tribal militias, tapping into longtime hatreds between the region’s two main communities — one that identifies as Arab, the other as East or Central African.
In the early 2000s, African tribes in Darfur that had long complained of discrimination rebelled against the Khartoum government, which responded with a military campaign that the International Criminal Court later said amounted to genocide.
State-backed Arab militias known as the Janjaweed were accused of widespread killings, rapes and other atrocities. The Janjaweed later evolved into the RSF.
Early on Thursday, fighters wearing RSF uniforms attacked several neighbourhoods across Genena, driving families from their homes. The violence spiralled as tribal fighters joined the fray in Genena, a city of around half a million near the border with Chad.
The military has largely withdrawn to its barracks, staying out of the clashes, and residents were taking up arms to defend themselves, said Dr Salah Tour, a board member of the Doctors’ Syndicate in West Darfur province, of which Genena is the capital.
The syndicate estimated that dozens of people were killed and hundreds wounded. Almost all of Genena’s medical facilities, including its main hospital, have been out of service for days, and the sole functioning hospital is inaccessible because of the fighting.
Criminal gangs looted the main hospital, stealing vehicles and equipment and destroying the hospital’s blood bank, the syndicate said.
Residents said the city’s main open-air market was completely destroyed. Government offices and aid agencies’ compounds were trashed and repeatedly burned, including UN premises and the headquarters of the Sudanese Red Crescent.
Elsewhere in Darfur, there have been sporadic clashes, particularly in Nyala, the capital of South Darfur province.
Thousands have fled their homes in Nyala, and others are too afraid to go outside for food and water. Earlier this month, fighters allegedly from the RSF destroyed and looted warehouses for the World Food Programme and other aid agencies in Nyala.
At least 512 people, including civilians and combatants, have been killed in Sudan since April 15, with another 4,200 wounded, according to the Sudanese Health Ministry. The Doctors’ Syndicate, which tracks civilian casualties, has recorded at least 295 civilians killed and 1,790 wounded.
Meanwhile, in Khartoum, residents reported gunfire and explosions in some areas on Thursday, and the military’s warplanes bombed RSF positions in the upscale neighbourhood of Kafouri.
Many are struggling to obtain food and water, and electricity is cut off across much of Khartoum and other cities, while multiple aid agencies have had to suspend operations.