More than 1 million people have been displaced by five weeks of fighting in Sudan, including a quarter of a million refugees, according to the United Nations refugee agency.
Sudan has been gripped by violence since April 15 when disagreements between army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and the head of the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagalo, escalated into an armed conflict. Hundreds of people have been killed in the battles that have turned the streets of the capital, Khartoum, and other places across the country into warzones.
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Speaking to reporters in Geneva on Friday, a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Matthew Saltmarsh, said 843,000 people had been internally displaced so far due to the fighting.
About 250,000 others have fled across Sudan’s borders, streaming mostly into Egypt, Chad, Ethiopia and South Sudan, Saltmarsh said, adding that Egypt has so far received the highest number of Sudanese refugees at about 110,000.
“Many of those who have approached us are in a distressed state, having been exposed to violence or traumatic conditions in Sudan and having suffered arduous journeys,” Saltmarsh said. The pace has increased in recent weeks, he said, with about 5,000 people arriving each day in Egypt.
The UN said on Wednesday that half of Sudan’s population needs humanitarian aid and more than $3bn will be needed this year alone to provide urgent assistance inside the country and to those fleeing across its borders.
Al-Burhan and Hemedti held the top positions on Sudan’s ruling council following the 2019 overthrow of longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir. The two generals staged a military coup two years later, derailing Sudan’s fragile transition towards democratic rule.
The fighting began after disputes over plans for the RSF to be absorbed into the army and the chain of command in a new political transition.
It has also spread to the western region of Darfur, with hundreds of people killed. The rivalry between the army and RSF has taken on an intercommunal dimension in the region, pitting Arab communities against non-Arab groups and reviving memories of a devastating war that erupted there in 2003.
Separately on Friday, al-Burhan, head of the ruling Sovereignty Council, issued a decree firing his deputy, Hemedti, with “immediate effect”.
Reporting from Khartoum’s twin city of Omdurman, Al Jazeera’s Hiba Morgan said al-Burhan’s move appeared to be aimed at minimising the strength and significance of his rival.
“People have been asking why it took so long to dismiss the vice president of the Sovereignty Council from this position, especially because the army chief has already branded the RSF as a rebel group since the start of the conflict,” she said.
“It looks like he’s trying to diminish the position and power of the RSF as negotiations continue [in the Saudi city of Jeddah] and as fighting continues here in Sudan.”
Morgan went on to say that while Hemedti has been dismissed from his position, he still remains a member of the Sovereignty Council.
“It looks more like a move to try to reduce the power of Hemedti and not to completely negate it,” she said.
The new decree came days after al-Burhan froze the bank accounts of the RSF and its affiliated firms.
He also replaced the central bank governor and sacked four generals who had been moved temporarily to the paramilitary forces.