Residents flee Khartoum as fighting continues

Bodies on the streets of the Sudanese capital as fighting enters fifth day despite ceasefire claims.

Sudan conflict
People gather to get bread during clashes between the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces and the army in Khartoum [El-Tayeb Siddig/Reuters]

Thousands of residents have fled Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, where witnesses said bodies lay in the streets, after a 24-hour truce failed to hold between the army and paramilitaries.

By Wednesday, five days of fighting in Khartoum and elsewhere in the northeast African country had killed at least 270 people.

“Life in Khartoum is impossible if this war does not stop,” Alawya al-Tayeb, 33, said on her way out of the city.

“I tried to make children not see the slain bodies on the streets,” she said, adding that her children currently suffer from shock and will need treatment.

The violence erupted on Saturday between the forces of two generals who seized power in a 2021 coup: army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and his deputy, Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagalo, who commands the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

The fighting followed a bitter dispute about the planned integration of the RSF into the regular army – a key condition for a deal for Sudan’s democratic transition.

Deafening explosions rattled buildings and heavy gunfire was heard in Khartoum, as witnesses said plumes of thick black smoke poured from buildings around the army headquarters in the centre of the city.

RSF fighters on top of armoured vehicles and pick-up trucks laden with weapons swarmed through the streets. Fighter jets roared overhead and fired on RSF targets, the witnesses said.

The civilians huddled in their homes were becoming increasingly desperate, with dwindling food supplies, power outages, and a lack of running water.

A 24-hour humanitarian ceasefire failed to take hold at its proposed start at 16:00 GMT on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, the RSF said it would “fully commit to a complete ceasefire”, again from 16:00 GMT and to last 24 hours. The army has said that it has also agreed to the ceasefire.

Thousands of people have taken matters into their own hands and, according to witnesses, have begun leaving their homes in Khartoum. Some were in cars and others on foot, including women and children.

“We are now on our way to Madani to stay with our relatives after my family and kids lived through the terror of explosions,” Mohamed Saleh, 43, a government employee, said.

“We were very worried fighters would start storming homes.”

Hassan Razzaq, an Al Jazeera correspondent in southern Khartoum, said on Wednesday that the streets remained deserted.

“I’m at Al-Siteen Street, one of the vital roads of Khartoum. It stretches for more than two kilometres. Almost all the shops are closed on both sides of the road,” Razzaq said.

“We observed civilians moving away from confrontation zones to safer locations. The street is reminiscent of a ghost town. We observed what looks like displacements from Khartoum to other, safer provinces. We hear gunfire every now and then,” he added.

Many of the wounded in the city are unable to reach hospitals, which are also being shelled, according to the official doctors’ union.

Out of 59 main hospitals in Khartoum, about 39 are currently “out of service”, said the union, as well as reporting “severe shortages” in remaining facilities.

Foreign diplomats have been attacked, and United Nations emergency relief coordinator Martin Griffiths said the United Nations had received “reports of attacks and sexual violence against aid workers”.

Governments have started planning to evacuate their citizens, among them many were UN staff.

Japan said its defence ministry had begun the “necessary preparations” to evacuate about 60 of its nationals from Sudan, including embassy staff.

Berlin aborted an evacuation attempt on Wednesday that involved three military transport planes, which would have carried 150 citizens, according to German weekly Der Spiegel.

The United States embassy in Khartoum said it had started gathering citizens’ personal details while urging them to remain indoors and stay away from windows.

“Due to the uncertain security situation in Khartoum and closure of the airport, there are no plans for [a] US government-coordinated evacuation,” it tweeted.

In the violence, a US diplomatic convoy has been fired upon, the European Union’s ambassador attacked at home, and a Belgian humanitarian official with the EU hospitalised after being shot.

Aid groups have reported the looting of medical and other supplies.

Al Jazeera’s Hiba Morgan in Khartoum said that many residents have reported RSF personnel entering their homes and robbing them.

“People are worried about opening their doors when they hear a knock, as they don’t know if it is a relative in need or an armed person,” Morgan said.

Meanwhile, shop owners and traders in central parts of the capital have also reported incidents of looting and destruction.

“Traders say their shops and markets have been looted and completely destroyed by RSF,” Morgan said.

“Residents say this fallout from the fighting – looting and assaults – will not end soon, even if the fighting ends,” she added.

The latest violence has come after more than 120 civilians were already killed in a crackdown on regular pro-democracy demonstrations in the past 18 months.

Both generals have positioned themselves as saviours of Sudan and guardians of democracy, in a country that has known only brief democratic interludes.

Saturday’s outbreak of violence is the culmination of deep-seated divisions between the army and the RSF, which was created in 2013 by longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir.

Al-Burhan and Hemedti toppled al-Bashir together in April 2019 following mass protests against his three decades of iron-fisted rule.

In October 2021, the pair led a military coup against the civilian government, which was installed following al-Bashir’s overthrow, derailing an internationally backed transition.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies