Clashes erupted north of Sudan’s capital Khartoum on Wednesday night, upending a temporary ceasefire between the Sudanese Army and its rival, the Rapid Support Force, just hours after it was struck.
The two factions have been battling for days, and Wednesday saw fierce fighting in central Khartoum as well as serious clashes at the capital’s main airport, which has been closed since Saturday as RSF leader Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, also known as Hemedti, vies for power against Sudan’s military chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.
Hemedti is commanding his troops from the city’s Hai Al Matar neighborhood, which is close to the military headquarters, a high ranking military official and an eyewitness told CNN.
The military official chose to remain anonymous as they were not authorized to speak. The eyewitness, who saw Hemedti’s convoy, requested anonymity out of fear for their safety.
The Sudanese armed forces said in a statement earlier on Wednesday that it “repelled and defeated” RSF’s attempt to seize the army’s headquarters, saying they have seized “quantities of ammunition, a number of medium and light machine guns, personal weapons, and 24 Land Cruisers that they [RSF] left behind.”
It admitted that since the outbreak of fighting on Saturday, RSF has managed to seize a number of government headquarters including the Ministry of the Council of Ministers, the Ministry of the Interior and the Civil Registry Department and are using these “civilian institutions to manage their combat activities.”
The army said that RSF seized a number of “weapons stores from police stations.”
The failed ceasefire had been hoped to provide respite for civilians caught in the middle of the conflict.
Each faction previously accused the other of breaking another failed truce on Tuesday, with clashes re-erupting in the capital. Sudan’s armed forces accused RSF of assaulting civilians, looting and “burning the market on Bahri in Khartoum,” said Sudanese Armed Forces spokesperson Brigadier General Nabil Abdallah Ali Moussa.
“The real problem is that there does not seem that there is control over the RSF from its leadership. They are acting similar to gangs, and they are threatening people’s lives,” Moussa said.
The RSF accused the armed forces of breaching the truce “in the first hours” after it came into effect, and said the army continues to engage in “heavy weapons attacks and indiscriminate bombing.”
Civilians remain been caught in the chaos, and internet outages have been reported in the country by Internet watchdog NetBlocks. “The situation today is worse than yesterday,” Amal, a Sudanese woman who has been trapped in her home, told CNN.
“We can hear heavy artillery and smell and see the smoke rising from burning buildings,” she said.
Eman, a British-Sudanese doctor visiting Khartoum who has been trapped in her home since Saturday, told CNN that a number of her friends and family members have had to evacuate their homes, seeking shelter from indiscriminate bombing which has hit some residential buildings.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) called for immediate humanitarian access in a statement Wednesday.
“Fierce clashes continued overnight in the capital Khartoum with reports of rising numbers of civilian casualties. Hospitals in the capital are running dangerously low on medical supplies, while damage to the water and energy infrastructure has also left medical facilities without power and clean water,” the ICRC said.
Patrick Youssef, Africa regional director for the ICRC, called for “unimpeded” access.
“It is highly distressing hearing reports of civilian casualties and bodies left lying in the streets of Khartoum,” he said. “They need to be collected and treated with dignity.”
Half of the hospitals in Sudan’s capital are “out of action” due to intensifying clashes, according to a leading aid organization – even as the number of casualties rise and many of the injured are in dire need of medical attention.
“According to the information we have in Khartoum, 50% of hospitals have been out of action in the first 72 hours,” said Abdalla Hussein, the Médecins Sans Frontière (MSF) operational manager for Sudan. “This is because the staff weren’t feeling safe to go there or the hospitals themselves have been subject to shelling or bombing,” he said.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), at least 296 people have been killed and more than 3,000 have been injured since fighting erupted on Saturday.
International governments have been calling for a truce so authorities can distribute aid and coordinate evacuations.
On Wednesday, Japan said it was preparing to send its military to evacuate nationals from Sudan.
Japan has been able to contact all 60 of its nationals in Sudan, including embassy staff, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said during an emergency news conference. There are no reports of injuries among them, though food and water are scarce, and power cuts have become frequent as the security situation deteriorates.
The United States has not announced any plans for an evacuation operation for Americans in Sudan, but has urged its nationals to stay indoors, shelter in place, and stay away from windows.
Other countries have published advisories to their nationals in Sudan. China has asked its citizens there to stay vigilant and to register their information online with the Chinese Embassy in Khartoum. The Indian Embassy in Sudan also issued an advisory on Tuesday asking its citizens to stay indoors and ration supplies due to looting.
U.N.’s Emergency Relief Coordinator issues dire warning on Sudan conflict
The advisories come as reports emerge of attacks on foreign nationals and staffers.
Armed personnel stormed the homes of people working for the UN and other international organizations in downtown Khartoum, according to reports in an internal UN document seen by CNN.
According to the document, the gunmen sexually assaulted women and stole belongings including cars. One incident of rape was also reported. These armed personnel, “reportedly from RSF, are entering the residences of expats, separating men and women and taking them away,” read the report.
CNN has not been able to independently verify the alleged attacks. The RSF denied the claims, blaming Sudan’s armed forces for committing the crimes while wearing RSF uniforms. The armed forces have denied involvement in the violations, and reiterated accusations that the RSF has committed crimes against humanity.
In separate incidents cited in the document, two Nigerian men working for an international organization were abducted and later released; a building housing the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs was targeted; and a rocket-propelled grenade hit the home of a local UN staff member in Khartoum.
On Wednesday, medical charity MSF said its compound in Nyala, South Darfur, had been raided by armed men who “stole everything including vehicles and office equipment.”
“Our warehouse – holding vital medical supplies – was also raided, we do not know to what extent as we have no access,” MSF said on its official Twitter account.
“We request again respect for the protection of humanitarian organisations and their premises. Our priority now is to ensure the safety of our staff,” the post added.
Other incidents in recent days include a US diplomatic convoy coming under gunfire, the EU ambassador to Sudan being assaulted in his Khartoum residency, and three workers from the UN’s World Food Programme killed in clashes.