Sudan’s army and rival force clash, wider conflict feared

Heavy fighting between Sudanese troops and a powerful paramilitary force took place in the capital and elsewhere in the country on Saturday, dealing a fresh blow to hopes for a democratic transition and raising fears of a wider conflict. A group of doctors said at least three people were killed and dozens were injured.

The clashes ended months of tension between the armed forces and the Rapid Support Forces.those tensions put off a transaction Work with political parties to restore the country to its short-lived democratic transition, derailed by a military coup in October 2021.

After a day of heavy fighting, the military has ruled out negotiations with the RSF, calling instead for the disbandment of so-called “rebel militias”. The strong language suggested that the conflict between the former allies who co-engineered the 2021 coup is likely to continue.

Fighting broke out early Saturday. Heavy fire could be heard throughout the day in the capital Khartoum and its sister city of Omdurman, where the military and Rapid Support Forces have assembled tens of thousands of soldiers since the coup.

Witnesses said fighters from both sides opened fire from armored vehicles and machine guns mounted on pickup trucks in populated areas. Saw some tanks in Khartoum. The military said it launched aircraft and drone attacks on RSF positions in and around the capital.

As night fell, residents said they still heard gunfire and explosions in different parts of Khartoum, including around the military headquarters and other bases.

Residents described scenes of chaos. “There were fires and explosions everywhere,” said Amal Mohamed, a doctor at a public hospital in Omdurman. “Everyone is running and seeking shelter.”

“We have never seen such fighting in Khartoum before,” said Khartoum resident Abdul Hamid Mustafa.

One of the flashpoints was Khartoum International Airport. No official announcement was made that the airport was closed, but major airlines have suspended flights. Flight tracking data showed this included flights from Egypt and Saudi Arabia to Sudan that turned back after almost landing at the airport.

The national airline of Saudi Arabia said one of the planes was involved in what it called an “accident”. Video shows the plane bursting into flames on the tarmac. Another plane also appeared to be on fire. Flight-tracking website FlightRadar24 identified it as a SkyUp Boeing 737. SkyUp is an airline based in Kiev, Ukraine. It did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Sudanese Medical Association said two civilians were killed at the airport, without specifying the circumstances. Another man was shot dead in Northern Kordofan state, the group said. One of the journalists was stopped by soldiers, taken to military headquarters and beaten, the BBC said.

Leaders of the armed forces and RSF blamed each other for sparking Saturday’s fighting and offered conflicting accounts of who controlled key installations.

General Abdul Fattah al-Burhan, commander of the Sudanese army, told Qatar satellite news network Al Jazeera that RSF forces first “harassed” troops south of Khartoum, sparking the clashes.

Burhan accused the RSF of entering Khartoum airport and setting fire to some of the planes. He also said all strategic installations, including the military headquarters and the Palace of the Republic, home to the Sudanese presidential palace, were under the control of his forces. He threatened to deploy more troops to Khartoum from across the county.

General Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, head of the RSF, accused Burhan of starting the battle by surrounding RSF forces. “This criminal, he imposed this fight on us,” he said.

Dagalo told Al Jazeera he believed that in the “next few days” it would all be over.

The RSF claimed that its forces took control of Khartoum and strategic locations in the northern city of Merowe, about 350 kilometers (215 miles) northwest of the capital. The military has refuted the claims, calling them “lies”.

The battle comes after months of escalating tensions between the generals and months of political unrest following the 2021 coup. The tension stems from disagreements over how Dagalo’s Rapid Support Forces should be integrated into the armed forces and which agency should oversee the process. Merger is a key condition for Sudan not to sign a transition deal with political groups.

Pro-democracy activists have accused Burhan and Dagalo of mistreating protesters across the county over the past four years, including the deadly destruction of a protest camp outside the military headquarters in Khartoum in June 2019, killing more than 120 protesters. die. Many groups have repeatedly called for their accountability. The RSF has long been accused of atrocities related to the Darfur conflict.

U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and other top diplomats expressed extreme concern Saturday over the outbreak of violence. “We urge all involved to immediately stop the violence, avoid further escalation or mobilization of the military, and continue negotiations to resolve outstanding issues,” Blinken tweeted.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres; the EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell; African Union Commission President Moussa Faki Mohamed; Arab League President Ahmed Abu Gheit; and Qatar have all called for a ceasefire and demanded The two sides resumed negotiations to resolve the dispute. Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have called on those fighting in Sudan to exercise restraint and work to find a political solution in the country.

Abdullah Hamdok, the former prime minister who was ousted in a 2021 coup, has warned that if the fighting escalates, it could spark regional conflict. “The shooting must stop immediately,” he said in a video appeal to both sides posted on his Twitter account.

UN special envoy to Sudan Volker Potus and Saudi ambassador to Sudan Ali bin Hassan al-Jafar are engaging with Dagalo and Burhan to try to end the violence, said a UN official who requested anonymity to discuss internal deliberations .

Meanwhile, Chad announced that it would close its land border with Sudan until further notice because of the fighting.

A military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the clashes were centered in Khartoum but also in other parts of the country, including the northern provinces, the conflict-torn region of Darfur and the strategic coastal city of Port Sudan on the Red Sea because He is not authorized to brief the media.

The U.S. ambassador to Sudan, John Godfrey, wrote online that he was sheltering in place with the embassy team.

“I make an urgent appeal to senior military leaders to stop the fighting,” he wrote.

Associated Press writers Samy Magdy in Cairo and Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates contributed to this report.

Jack Jeffery and Samy Magdy for The Associated Press

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Smoke rises from a neighborhood in Khartoum, Sudan, Saturday, April 15, 2023. After weeks of escalating tensions, violent clashes have erupted between the Sudanese army and the country’s powerful paramilitary forces in the capital and elsewhere in the African nation. The fighting has sparked fears of a wider conflict in the troubled country. (AP Photo/Marwan Ali)

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