Diplomats, aid workers under attack in ‘nightmare’ Sudan violence

Endre Stiansen, the Norwegian ambassador to Sudan, said the ‘urban warfare’ in Khartoum is unprecedented.

Smoke rises as clashes continue in the Sudanese capital
Smoke rises above Khartoum as Sudan sees its fifth day of fighting between the army and Rapid Support Forces paramilitary [Mahmoud Hjaj/Anadolu Agency]

Aerial and artillery bombardments have killed at least 270 civilians and injured nearly 2,000 as Sudan’s rival generals duel in a fifth day of fighting.

Sheltering in place like the rest of the population, staff of foreign missions have found themselves caught in the conflict’s crosshairs and have called on the Sudanese government to ensure their safety in accordance with international treaties.

The security situation on the ground is extremely uncertain, however, as the army squares off against the powerful Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary in the capital, Khartoum.

Two previous attempts to implement ceasefires have failed thus far, which has made it difficult for civilians to receive medical care and buy necessities like food and water and for foreign missions to evacuate their citizens and diplomats from Sudan. There are reports that a third attempt will be made starting at 6pm (16:00 GMT) on Wednesday.

The Japanese government said on Wednesday that its Ministry of Defence was looking into an operation to evacuate about 60 Japanese citizens from Sudan.

Diplomats assaulted

On Tuesday, news broke that Wim Fransen, head of the EU’s humanitarian agency in Sudan, had been shot and seriously injured and was receiving medical attention.

Fransen had been missing since Sunday night in the midst of the confusion caused by the fighting and orders to shelter in place. After searching for him for more than 24 hours, his colleagues were able to find him and get him help.

Details remain sparse, including details on who had shot Fransen or where he was during the day he went missing.

Speaking to Al Jazeera on Tuesday, another European diplomat, Norwegian Ambassador to Sudan and Eritrea Endre Stiansen said that his resident in Khartoum home had been hit by a shell early on Sunday and he had to be moved to “a better-protected building”.

“The [Sudanese] government has a responsibility to protect [us],” Stiansen said. “That is not taking place.”

On Monday night, his neighbour Aidan O’Hara, the EU ambassador in Sudan, was assaulted in his residence.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell tweeted that the assault was a “gross violation of the Vienna Convention”, which guarantees the safety of diplomatic premises and personnel, after which the EU delegation to Sudan said on Twitter that O’Hara had not been harmed.

While deeply concerned, Stiansen said he wasn’t surprised by the attack on O’Hara.

“He’s a rich person living in a neighbourhood now with lots of desperate people,” Stiansen said, adding that he did not think the attack was politically or personally motivated. “It just happened to be him in that case,” the ambassador said.

Since the conflict broke out, many people have been stranded in their homes, offices, schools and the airport with no food or water.

Stiansen said people have been knocking on diplomats’ doors, asking for basics, and he has heard of home invasions by desperate people but stresses that there haven’t been “regular” burglaries.

“They’re looking for water, they’re looking for food and they leave when they got what they need,” he said, adding that they don’t take valuables.

Stiansen, who has spent most of his life in Sudan, first arriving as a student, said the current “urban warfare” in Khartoum is unprecedented.

“No situation in the past has been like this. It’s a nightmare,” he said, warning that intervention by regional actors would only worsen the conflict.

“The only way to get stability … is to have an inclusive transition towards democracy,” said Stiansen, referring to a process that has sputtered along since it was launched in 2019 after an uprising toppled former strongman Omar al-Bashir, ending his nearly 30-year rule.

Diplomats and aid workers attacked

O’Hara was assaulted on the same day that a US diplomatic convoy was attacked, allegedly by the RSF, prompting US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to phone the paramilitary’s leader.

“I made very clear that any attacks, threats [and dangers] posed to our diplomats were totally unacceptable,” Blinken told reporters about his call with General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known as Hemedti.

Sweden’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs told Al Jazeera it is working to evacuate its embassy staff and their families “as soon as the security situation allows”. It refrained from commenting on threats to its mission there, saying it could jeopardise security measures.

United Nations and international aid workers have also been attacked.

Three employees of the World Food Programme were killed on Sunday in the western region of Darfur, prompting the group to suspend operations in the country.

Gunmen entered the Khartoum residences of UN workers and others working for international NGOs, sexually assaulting women and stealing cars and other belongings, according to an internal UN document seen by Bloomberg News.

The UN did not immediately reply to Al Jazeera’s request for confirmation of these incidents.

Source: Al Jazeera