Fighting rages in Sudan's Capital; no progress in talks

A Sudanese refugee girl who fled violence in Sudan's Darfur region, cooks as she carries her 2-year-old brother outside her shelter near the border between Sudan and Chad in Koufroun on May 10, 2023. [Reuters]

Fighting in Sudan's capital worsened Wednesday, as witnesses reported airstrikes, rocket-propelled grenades and gunfire in several neighborhoods. In southern Sudan, fighting between tribes lasting several days has raised the fear the conflict, mostly centered around Khartoum, could spread.

The Sudanese army, led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, struck targets in Khartoum and its two sister cities, Omdurman and Bahri, for the second day as it tries to dislodge the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces led by General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo that have dug into the residential areas they have held since fighting began in mid-April.

"There's been heavy airstrikes and RPG fire since 6:30 a.m.," Ahmed, a resident of the Bahri neighborhood of Shambat, told Reuters. "We're lying on the ground, and there are people living near us who ran to the Nile to protect themselves there under the embankment."

In southern Sudan, it is not clear if the fighting there between the Hausa and Nuba tribes was sparked by the fighting in Khartoum. Such violence is not uncommon in southern and western Sudan. The recent fighting there has left 25 dead, according to the country's doctors union.

The World Health Organization said Tuesday that the death toll from nearly one month of brutal fighting in Sudan was more than 600 and that more than 5,000 had been injured.

"Our only hope is that the negotiations in Jeddah succeed to end this hell and return to normal life, and to stop the war, the looting, the robbery and the chaos," Ahmed Ali, 25, of Khartoum, told Reuters.

Delegations from the army and the RSF have been meeting in Saudi Arabia for almost a week. A Western diplomat familiar with the talks told Reuters that mediators were focusing on an agreement on a cease-fire and humanitarian access.

U.S. Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland has said U.S. negotiators were "cautiously optimistic" on both points.

The two generals are former allies who together orchestrated an October 2021 military coup that derailed a transition to civilian rule following the 2019 ouster of longtime leader Omar al-Bashir.

Tensions between the generals have been growing over disagreements about how the RSF should be integrated into the army and who should oversee that process. The restructuring of the military was part of an effort to restore the country to civilian rule and end the political crisis sparked by the 2021 military coup.

Repeated cease-fire agreements have failed to end the conflict or even do much to reduce the violence.

The United Nations refugee agency said Tuesday that more than 700,000 Sudanese have fled their homes since the violence broke out last month — a figure that is more than double the 334,000 the agency reported to be internally displaced last week.

The International Organization for Migration said an additional 100,000 Sudanese have fled the country.

Most aid operations have been suspended or severely scaled back because of the lack of security. Several aid workers have been killed in the fighting.

Looting also has hampered aid operations. The World Food Program said nearly 17,000 tons of food worth between $13 million and $14 million have been stolen from its warehouses across Sudan.

The WFP said Wednesday that up to 2.5 million additional people in Sudan were "expected to slip into hunger" soon because of the violence. The U.N. agency said this would take acute food insecurity in Sudan to record levels.

More than 19 million people, or two-fifths of Sudan's population, are currently affected, according to the WFP.