A month into eruption of Sudan's brutal war, no end in sight

Tuesday May 16 2023
Sudan smoke

Smoke billows in the distance in Khartoum amid ongoing fighting between the forces of two rival generals on May 15, 2023. PHOTO | AFP


One month since Sudan's conflict erupted, its capital is a desolate war zone where terrorised families huddle at home as gun battles rage, while the western Darfur region has descended into deadly chaos.

Residents of Khartoum have endured weeks of desperate food shortages, power blackouts, communications outages and runaway inflation.

The capital of five million, long a place of relative stability, has become a shell of its former self.

Charred aircraft lie on the airport tarmac, foreign embassies are shuttered and hospitals, banks, shops and wheat silos have been ransacked by looters.

“Violence also renewed in El Geneina, the capital of West Darfur state, leaving hundreds killed and the health system in total collapse,” medics said.

Fighting continued on Monday, with loud explosions heard across Khartoum and thick smoke in the sky while warplanes drew anti-aircraft fire, according to witnesses.


"The situation is becoming worse by the day," said a 37-year-old resident of southern Khartoum who did not wish to be named because of safety concerns.

"People are getting more and more scared because the two sides... are becoming more and more violent."

Another witness reported "clashes with various types of weapons" in Omdurman, the capital's twin city.

Battles erupted on April 15 between army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his former deputy Mohamed Hamdan Daglo, who leads the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

Read: Sudan war: Pain of broken chains of command

What remains of the government has retreated to Port Sudan about 850 kilometres (500 miles) away, the hub for mass evacuations.

700,000 internally displaced

The UN says more than 700,000 people have been internally displaced by the fighting, and nearly 200,000 have fled Sudan for neighbouring countries.

sudan egypt border

Relatives welcome Palestinian evacuees from war-torn Sudan upon arrival to the Gaza Strip through the Rafah border crossing with Egypt on April 28, 2023. PHOTO | SAID KHATIB | AFP

There are fears for the stability of the wider region.

"We're left on the street, in the sun," complained Hamden Mohammed, who escaped the Khartoum area for Port Sudan.

"We want the organisations to evacuate us from Sudan, because the country is totally devastated. There's no food, no work... nothing," he added.

Around 1,000 people have been killed, mainly in and around Khartoum as well as the ravaged state of West Darfur, according to medics.
Violence on Friday and Saturday in West Darfur capital El Geneina killed at least 280, according to the Sudanese doctors' union.

"There was still heavy shelling on Sunday that hit my home, damaging a part of it and injuring one of my sisters," said one El Geneina resident.

"Other houses around us were completely destroyed."

After a month of war, Burhan declared he was freezing the assets of the RSF which has interests in Sudan's gold mines, analysts say.
Burhan dismissed the central bank governor and the police director general, while Daglo threatened in an audio recording that the army chief would be "brought to justice and hanged" publicly.

Read: Sudan warring sides only agree to protect civilians

Neither side winning

Neither side has been able to establish dominance on the battlefield, and experts have forecast a protracted conflict.
The army backed by Egypt has the advantage of air power while Daglo is supported by the United Arab Emirates and foreign fighters, according to experts.

Daglo commands troops that stemmed from the notorious Janjaweed militia, accused of atrocities in a war that began in Darfur two decades ago.

The scorched-earth campaign killed up to 300,000 people and uprooted more than 2.7 million, the UN said.

Many were still living in Darfur's displacement camps as war returned to the region.

Multiple truce deals in the current conflict have been violated.

Sudan has a long history of military coups, but hopes had risen after mass protests led to the ouster of Islamist-backed strongman Omar al-Bashir in 2019, followed by a shaky transition toward civilian rule.

As Washington and other foreign powers lifted sanctions, Sudan was slowly reintegrating into the international community before the generals derailed that transition with another coup in 2021.

The security breakdown has extended beyond Khartoum and Darfur to other regions. Ethnic violence last week killed more than 50 people in West Kordofan and White Nile states, according to the UN.

Sudan clashes

Sudanese civilians run past a military vehicle in Khartoum on April 15, 2023, amid confirmed clashes between the country's paramilitaries and regular army. PHOTO | AFP

Read: Civilians’ frantic struggle to survive in Khartoum

Humanitarian crisis deepened

The fighting has deepened the humanitarian crisis in Sudan, where one in three people already relied on humanitarian assistance before the war.

Since then, aid agencies have been looted and at least 18 of their workers killed.

Diplomatic facilities have also been targeted. Jordan on Monday issued a condemnation after its Khartoum embassy building "was stormed and attacked".

Across the Red Sea, in the Saudi city of Jeddah, envoys from both sides have been negotiating.

By May 11 they had signed a commitment to respect humanitarian principles and allow in badly needed aid.

"Scarcely had the two warring parties signed the Jeddah Agreement on Thursday night when chaos erupted once again in Geneina," according to William Carter, the Norwegian Refugee Council's country director.

Doctors Without Borders said food shortages in Darfur displacement camps mean people have gone from three meals a day to just one.

“The fighting has caused the partial deindustrialisation of the country,” said Aly Verjee, a researcher at Sweden's University of Gothenburg, meaning "any future Sudan will be much poorer for much longer."