Dozens killed as army and rival group battle for control of Sudan

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The Sudanese military and a powerful paramilitary group are battling for control of the chaos-stricken nation for a second day, signalling they are unwilling to end hostilities despite mounting diplomatic pressure to cease fire.

At least 61 civilians were reported killed, including three employees of the UN food agency. The Sudan Doctors’ Syndicate said it believed there were dozens of additional deaths among the rival forces. It said more than 670 people were wounded, including civilians and fighters.

The clashes capped months of heightened tensions between the military and its partner-turned-rival, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) group.

Smoke is seen rising from a neighbourhood in Khartoum
Smoke is seen rising from a neighbourhood in Khartoum, Sudan (Marwan Ali/AP)

Heavy fighting raged on Sunday in the capital Khartoum and the adjoining city of Omdurman.

Volker Perthes, the UN envoy for Sudan, said that both sides’ leaders agreed to a three-hour humanitarian pause in fighting in the late afternoon on Sunday, but violence continued to engulf the capital.

As night fell, residents reported heavy explosions and continued gunfire. Some said thick flames could be seen in the city centre where both the army and the RSF have military facilities and camps. The clashes come as most Sudanese are preparing to celebrate the holiday that marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

During the day there were fierce clashes around the military headquarters, Khartoum International Airport and state television headquarters, said Tahani Abass, a prominent rights advocate.

“The battles have not stopped,” she said from her family home close to the military headquarters.

“They are shooting against each other in the streets. It’s an all-out war in residential areas.”

Ms Abass said her family spent the night huddling on the ground floor of their home.

The fighting comes after months of escalating tensions between the generals and years of political unrest since the 2021 coup (Marwan Ali/AP)

Sounds of gunfire were heard while she was speaking to The Associated Press.

Military jets also pounded RSF bases across the capital.

Fighting was also reported in the western Darfur region, where tens of thousands of people live in camps for displaced people after years of genocidal civil war.

The military and the RSF both claimed to be in control of strategic locations in Khartoum and elsewhere in the country.

Their claims could not be independently verified.

Both sides signalled late on Saturday that they were unwilling to negotiate.

Smoke is seen rising from a neighbourhood in Khartoum, Sudan
Smoke is seen in a neighbourhood in Khartoum, Sudan (Marwan Ali/AP)

The head of the RSF, General Mohammed Hamdan Dagalo, told the satellite news network Al Arabyia that he ruled out negotiations.

Gen Dagalo called on Gen Burhan to surrender.

Meanwhile, diplomatic pressure appeared to be mounting.

Top diplomats, 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 urged the sides to stop fighting.

Members of the UN Security Council, at odds over other crises around the world, called for an immediate end of the hostilities and a return to dialogue.

Smoke is seen rising from a neighbourhood in Khartoum, Sudan
Smoke rises in an area of Khartoum, Sudan (Marwan Ali/AP)

US secretary of state Antony Blinken said he had consulted with the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

“We agreed it was essential for the parties to immediately end hostilities without pre-condition,” he said in a statement early on Sunday.

The Sudan Doctors’ Syndicate appealed to international humanitarian and medical organisations to support medical facilities in the country.

The group also called on the international community to press both sides to ensure safe passage for ambulances and medical personnel.

The recent tensions stem from disagreement over how the RSF, headed by Gen Dagalo, should be integrated into the armed forces and what authority should oversee the process.

Smoke is seen rising from a neighbourhood in Khartoum, Sudan
Smoke rises in a neighbourhood in Khartoum (Marwan Ali/AP)

Pro-democracy activists have blamed Gen Burhan and Gen Dagalo for abuses against protesters across the country over the past four years, including the deadly break-up of a protest camp outside the military’s headquarters in Khartoum in June 2019 that killed more than 120 protesters.

Many groups have repeatedly called for holding them accountable.

The RSF has long been accused of atrocities linked to the Darfur conflict.

Sudan, a country at the crossroads of the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa, is known for its history of military coups and civil conflicts since it gained independence in the 1950s.

The country has borders with six African nations and a strategic coastline on the Red Sea.

A decade-old civil conflict resulted in the secession of South Sudan in 2011.

The clashes will increase hardship in Sudan, where the UN says some 16 million people – or one-third of the population – already depend on humanitarian assistance.

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