Fighting reignites between Sudan army, RSF in Khartoum

Humanitarian groups say disease and malnutrition threaten the rising number of those displaced by relentless fighting.

Sudanese national flag is attached to a machine gun of Paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) soldiers
A Sudanese national flag is attached to a machine gun of a paramilitary Rapid Support Forces soldier [File: Umit Bektas/Reuters]

Fierce fighting between the Sudanese army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) shook the capital Khartoum, as disease and malnutrition threatened the rising number of displaced people.

Reporting from Omdurman – Khartoum’s twin city – Al Jazeera’s Hiba Morgan said the fighting started in the early hours of Sunday in the northern part of the city.

“People in the area say that the RSF tried to attack Sudanese army positions, and this is near an army air base where the fighter jets that have been targeting the RSF have been taking off,” she said.

Air strikes were launched in northern parts of the capital, Morgan reported, and heavy artillery was used in the city’s east.

“The RSF said it downed a Sudanese army fighter jet in the city of Bahri,” she said. Bahri, also known as Khartoum North, is one of three cities that make up Greater Khartoum.

Battles since April 15 between forces loyal to army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and the RSF have killed nearly 3,000 people.

Another 2.2 million have been forced from their homes inside the country with almost 645,000 fleeing across borders for safety, according to the International Organization for Migration.

A record 25 million people in Sudan need humanitarian aid and protection, the UN says.

“The situation is grave,” the medical charity Doctors Without Borders, known by its French initials MSF, said in a statement detailing the hardships of displaced Sudanese stuck in nine camps in the White Nile state which borders South Sudan.

‘We’re terrified’

In addition to the capital, the worst fighting has been in the western region of Darfur where residents, as well as the United Nations, United States and others, say civilians have been targeted and killed for their ethnicity by the RSF and allied Arab militias.

The death toll is believed to be much higher than recorded, with the World Health Organization saying about two-thirds of health facilities are “out of service” in combat-affected areas.

Many wounded are unable to reach hospitals and bodies lie rotting in the streets of Khartoum and Darfur.

“We’re terrified, every day the strikes are getting worse,” said Nahid Salah, 25, who lives in Omdurman.

The Sudanese Doctors Union accused the RSF on Saturday of raiding the Shuhada hospital, one of the few still operating in the country, and killing a staff member. The RSF denied the accusation.

The Combating Violence Against Women Unit, a government agency, said on Saturday it recorded 88 cases of sexual assault – which it said was a fraction of the likely real total – in Khartoum, El Geneina, and Nyala, capital of South Darfur, with victims in most cases accusing the RSF.

The war has smashed the country’s already fragile infrastructure, leaving residents short of water and electricity in the oppressive heat.

Numerous ceasefires, including some negotiated by the United States and Saudi Arabia, have failed to hold.

Fighting continued during the just-ended Eid al-Adha holiday, for which the warring sides announced separate unilateral truces.

Increasing urgency

The worsening situation in Darfur is a bleak reminder of the region’s painful history.

In 2003, former strongman Omar al-Bashir armed and unleashed the RSF’s predecessor, the Janjaweed militia, against Darfur’s non-Arab ethnic minorities in violence that killed more than 300,000 and displaced 2.5 million.

The International Criminal Court charged Bashir and others with genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

A UN official has warned of possible new “crimes against humanity” in the current fighting in Darfur.

Aid organisations are repeating their appeal to the warring sides to open up secure corridors to allow them to reach the injured and those displaced by the fighting.

These appeals have taken on increased urgency with the start of the rainy season in Sudan, usually accompanied by floods that bring water-borne diseases.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies